One woman still missing after fire, one victim remains unidentified
Beloved grandmother and friend Pamela Johnson is the only person still missing following the fires that tore through Sevier County on Nov. 28.
"I have to be hopeful. I am still hopeful," said Johnson’s granddaughter Claryssa Dalton.
Johnson’s family is remaining hopeful, but a number of her good friends and neighbors at the Travelers Lodge believe her to be dead.
Johnson lived in Travelers Lodge, and was last seen there on the night of the fires. All rooms were completely destroyed. Authorities identified one body found there as Robert Hejny.
Johnson is still on the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations missing person list. The agency investigated around 200 missing person leads, but now is focused on the only one remaining.
"Agents went out and made every effort to try and locate the individual or make contact with family members who possibly knew where the person could be, and all of those things have been done in the case of Pamela Johnson," said Earhart.
Earhart said 13 of the 14 fire victims have been positively identified, and that only one remains.
"Currently we are awaiting results from the Forensic Regional Center in Knoxville," said Earhart.
World renowned Forensic Anthropologist Dr. William Bass is not involved in Johnson's case. However, he has decades of experience in similar situations.
On Thursday, Bass explained the difficulty that comes with identifying bones that were badly burned in a fire.
"There is three burn stages. The first is black, then they would turn a gray color and then back to a grayish white and that is the worst," said Bass.
Bass said DNA can possibly be collected and tested from bones that are black, the least severe burn.
Dealing with DNA left behind in bones is likely what the medical examiner is using to test the unknown remains, according to Bass. He said this strategy is a backup for when no teeth are left behind, or if there are no dental records to match.
"If you have the pleasure of having something like a skull, you want to look for the teeth. One tooth is enough," he said.
Bass, and Earhart, say there is no timeline for the testing of the remains. Bass said the testing cannot be rushed, and examiners have to be absolutely positive.
"You're either pregnant or you're not. You're not a little bit pregnant. In trying to identify bones, you either identify the bones or you cannot identify the bones. You don't want to make a false identification," Bass said.
Bass said examination and testing can verify things like gender or age in some cases, and that those details are sometimes released if there cannot be a positive identification made.
Bass also says it is "extremely fortunate" 13 out of the 14 victims have been identified in the nearly three-week span since the fire.
"Three weeks in a situation like this is not a lot of time," Bass said.
Johnson’s family members are doing their best to stay positive, and hope for an answer soon.
The TBI said Johnson's case will remain open until she is found or a positive identification is made.