BELLINGHAM - Western Washington University student Dwight A. Clark died in the waters of Bellingham Bay likely the night he went missing, according to preliminary findings released by the Whatcom County medical examiner Thursday, Oct. 7.
Dr. Gary Goldfogel performed an autopsy on Clark, whose body was found Wednesday in the water near the old Georgia-Pacific log pond.
Goldfogel found no signs of inflicted trauma or external or internal injuries on the body, according to the Bellingham Police Department.
Goldfogel has not made a ruling on the cause and manner of Clark's death, and will need to complete further studies, including a toxicology report, which will take an estimated six to eight weeks, according to Bellingham police.
Police spokesman Mark Young said that the findings likely rule out the possibility that a crime occurred.
"This takes us away from the direction that there was some sort of heinous crime," Young said.
Detectives are not closing their investigation yet and are still looking into how and under what circumstances Clark got into the water.
"There's still some things we'd like to look at," Young said. "We will continue to look into this. It's still an open case."
Using dental records, Goldfogel confirmed that the body found Wednesday was Clark, a WWU freshman from Auburn. Clark's driver's license, credit cards, student ID and cell phone also were found on the body.
In a statement, Bellingham Police Chief Todd Ramsay called the discovery "a tragic confirmation."
"I want to sincerely thank the many volunteers for coming together to search for Dwight," Ramsay said in the statement. "We were all hopeful that he would be found safe. Mostly, I want to express our heartfelt sense of loss to the family and friends of Dwight. I want you to know that our thoughts and prayers are with you during this difficult time."
Clark, 18, was last seen leaving a party in the 1000 block of Indian Street at 2 a.m. Sept. 26. His cell phone sent a blank text message that was traced to downtown at about 2:40 that morning.
Volunteers had combed Bellingham for days in a search, putting posters featuring Clark's photo all over downtown.
Pennie Saum, a friend of Clark's family, said Wednesday that a bloodhound helped retrace Clark's last steps.
Mike Jolley of Twin Falls, Idaho, handles the dog, a 19-month-old male named Red. Jolley said he tracked Clark to a beach at the southern end of Cornwall Avenue. Flowers have been placed at the beach as a memorial.
Jolley said he was contacted to assist in the search Oct. 1, drove 11 hours to Bellingham and arrived early Saturday morning.
Red picked up soft traces of Clark's scent along the beach, indicating that Clark was there the night he disappeared. He said they were allowed onto the old Georgia-Pacific property, and when a gust of wind blew off the water and onto shore, Red bolted toward the direction of the log pond.
"He took off on a dead run," Jolley said. "It was the strongest possible sign that he could give me. All our indications for the first 36 hours were that (Clark) was in the log pond. We kept narrowing it down until we were certain and that's when we brought the police in."
Jolley contacted authorities with information about the tracks. Police searched the shoreline with crews, cadaver dogs and a helicopter but couldn't find Clark's body, which isn't surprising, Young said.
"It would have been extremely easy to miss," Young said.
Jolley said he went out on boats with Red on Sunday and Monday to help work the water. They left Tuesday without finding Clark but feeling certain they knew where he was.
A contract worker with the Port of Bellingham found Clark's body floating between a dock and a log boom Wednesday morning.
Young said the area where Clark was found is secured by fences, indicating that he floated there from some other location.
The public is invited to two memorials Saturday, Oct. 9, for Dwight Clark. Both are at 6 p.m. at skate parks, because Clark was an avid skateboarder. People should bring their own candles.
Friends of Dwight Clark have been keeping the Find Dwight Clark Facebook page updated even after his body was found. It remains a place for people to share their thoughts and memories.