HUEYTOWN, Ala. — Human remains were found Friday afternoon as law enforcement officials from multiple Alabama agencies descended on a residential neighborhood in search of a woman missing since before Christmas.
AL.com reported her body was found buried in a shallow grave in the backyard of a home on Chapel Drive in Hueytown, about 15 miles from the Birmingham bar where Houston, 29, of Trussville, was last seen the night of Dec. 20. Photos from the scene show a small, dilapidated green home and a backyard filled with refuse.
Authorities from the Birmingham, Trussville, and Hueytown police departments were at the crime scene throughout the morning, as were Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office deputies, a representative of the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office and workers from the Jefferson County Coroner’s Office.
Lynneice Washington, district attorney for Jefferson County’s Bessemer Cutoff Division, told reporters at the scene that multiple tips led authorities to the backyard where the woman’s body was found.
“The body is still intact, and the coroner now has her, and the proper examinations will be done to determine identification at this time,” Washington said.
AL.com reported that crime scene technicians were still working in the backyard early Friday afternoon. Washington described the cold and rainy scene as “very muddy (and) very nasty.”
Neighbors told an AL.com reporter that an elderly man used to live at the home in question, but his family moved him out due to his health. It was unknown Friday if the home is currently occupied.
According to investigators, she sent a text message to a co-worker about two hours later that indicated she did not know where she was or who she was with -- and that she feared she could be in danger.
“IDK (I don’t know) who (I’m) with so if I call please answer. I feel in trouble,” the text read, according to the Trussville Tribune.
As the days ticked by, Houston’s family hoped for a holiday miracle.
“Someone knows something, and we have to bring her home,” Houston’s mother, Charlaine Houston, wrote on Facebook the day after Christmas. “Her last message said ‘she didn’t know these people and she was in trouble.’ The detectives are working to find her, but please help us with any information you get.”
Charlaine Houston wrote two days after her daughter disappeared that Paighton Houston’s cellphone was going straight to voicemail and that her bank account had not been used since her disappearance.
“We are worried sick,” the distraught mother wrote.
She described her daughter as family-oriented and said Paighton had plans to spend the day after she vanished with her best friend, her sister and her family. She asked the public to continue sharing her daughter’s photos and thanked everyone for their support.
“This is a horrible nightmare for us and especially Paighton,” Charlaine Houston wrote.
A total of $10,000 in reward money was offered for information on Paighton Houston’s whereabouts, half from Crime Stoppers of Metro Alabama and half from Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey’s office.
“In the midst of the busy holiday season, it is critical that we support Paighton, her family and law enforcement to ensure we do everything possible to bring her home,” Ivey said in a Dec. 27 statement, according to ABC 33/40.
The management of the Tin Roof also pleaded for the public’s help on Instagram.
“We have been in contact with (Birmingham police) and have shared any info needed to assist since the report, including all of our staff that worked that evening,” the bar management’s statement said. “We hope and pray for Paighton’s safe return and encourage anyone to reach out with any information.”
Houston’s family earlier this week addressed her disappearance, which has garnered national headlines, and the conspiracy theories popping up on social media.
“We see everything that on social media,” Houston’s brother, Evan Houston, told WBRC in Birmingham. “We take the good and we appreciate the community. And the bad, we take it and let it roll off the cuff. The good outweighs the bad. That’s the world we live in. There’s good and bad out there. We’re just focusing on the good.”
Evan Houston wrote on Facebook that, all rumors aside, he knew his sister was in danger.
“There is so much speculation going around about her disappearance, but I can tell you one thing,” he wrote. “Paighton would be home by now if she had a choice. She is in danger and we need any and all help in trying to find her.”
Birmingham police officials told WBRC Tuesday that they had not found any suspects in the case matching the men last seen with Paighton Houston.
The case took a turn Thursday when investigators received the tips about the backyard in Hueytown, a city of about 16,000 just southwest of Birmingham. They spent about four hours that night on Chapel Drive, at its intersection with Love Street, before suspending the search around 9:30 p.m., AL.com reported.
They were back at the scene at 9 a.m. armed with search warrants for both the home and the property, the news site said.
The missing woman’s mother and brother had not written anything on social media since the remains were found, but Charlaine Houston posted a Bible verse -- Isaiah 40:31 -- on Facebook just hours before the news broke.
“They that wait upon the Lord, shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings of eagles, they shall run and not be weary, walk and not faint,” she wrote. “BRING PAIGHTON HOME!”
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