PALATKA, Fla. – Human remains found over the weekend in a shallow grave outside Crescent City were identified as those of a missing 20-year-old Putnam County mother, authorities said Tuesday.
Putnam County Sheriff’s Office Col. Joseph Wells announced at a news conference Tuesday afternoon that the medical examiner ruled Nyeisha Nelson’s death a homicide, but he did not say how she was killed.
According to the Sheriff’s Office, Nelson, a self-employed hairdresser, was reported missing by her family on Wednesday after she had not been seen or heard from for several days.
Family members said Nelson picked up her 5-year-old daughter on Feb. 10 and took the girl to school the next morning. Deputies said a neighbor reported seeing Nelson in the yard of her residence on Ohio Street in Crescent City before leaving in her 2008 gray Honda Accord wearing a white T-shirt, gray shorts and carrying a purse.
According to family members, Nelson normally stayed in contact several times a day but had not reached out to anyone since Feb. 11.
Nelson’s car was found Thursday abandoned in a wooded area off Old U.S. 17 not far from Crescent City. Wells said evidence was collected out of the car.
The search for Nelson continued, and detectives found human remains, which the medical examiner later identified as those of Nelson, around 8 a.m. Saturday in a wooded area off County Road 308 -- about 4 to 5 miles northwest of where Nelson’s car was located. Wells said she was buried in “a small and a shallow grave” along railroad tracks.
“I can tell you that the medical examiner wasn’t able to give us an exact time of death,” Wells said. “It is possible that her death occurred shortly after her disappearance, but again, they were unable to narrow that down exactly.”
Deborah Walker, Nelsons’ friend, told News4Jax that she’ll always remember Nelson’s smile.
“I can’t believe something like this would happen here,” Walker said.
Wells said investigators do not believe the killing was random.
“The investigation does suggest the likelihood that she knew the offender. This was not a random act of stranger on stranger violence,” he said. “But the exact motive is not known.”
Wells said the investigation suggests that someone may have used Nelson’s car after she disappeared.
“Her car is going to be a key part of this,” he said. “Not so much the car -- we have it -- but who was driving that car around or after Feb. 11.”
Wells said the person who owns the property where the remains were found is not a person of interest in the case. He said investigators have not identified a suspect, but there are several people who they want to talk to, including acquaintances.
“Everybody that knew her or potentially would have had any contact with her at that time period, we want to talk to at this point,” Wells said. “It has certainly not gotten to the point where we can identify whether the suspect is even male or female or who we’re looking for at this time.”
Wells added there’s no reason to believe that Nelson’s daughter was or is in any danger.
Anyone with information who saw Nelson’s car between Feb. 11 and Thursday or who has information about the case is asked to call the Sheriff’s Office at 386-329-0800 or CrimeStoppers of Northeast Florida at 1-888-277-8477. The reward for information leading to the arrest of Nelson’s killer has grown to $5,000.