Father struggles to cope after remains of Paige Birgfeld found

Frank Birgfeld places a wreath Thursday evening in Wells Gulch, where the remains of his daughter, Paige, were found on Tuesday.

Paige Birgfeld

Frank Birgfeld’s Thursday started and ended in the wilderness.

Tromping around early in the morning along the creek bed where the skeletal remains of his daughter, Paige, were discovered, the 68-year-old father from Centennial searched for answers.

He found bones.

Most likely belonging to small animals, two to three bones nonetheless piqued his interest enough to phone a Mesa County Sheriff’s Department investigator. He left a voicemail message.

“When we were searching (in 2007), we were trained to leave it where it was,” Birgfeld said.

Investigators were confident bones or fragments of bones remaining in plain view close to Paige Birgfeld’s suspected burial site were in fact animal remains, Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Matt Lewis said Thursday.

Frank Birgfeld’s morning hike took him farther up Wells Gulch, toward Grand Mesa.

The Mesa County Coroner’s Office on Thursday took custody of Paige Birgfeld’s remains, while an examination toward determining how Birgfeld died was expected to be completed over the coming days, coroner’s investigator Kim Hollingshead said. Toward that end, the bones may be sent to a forensic anthropologist, he said.

Hollingshead held out the possibility they may return to the excavation site to search for more of Birgfeld’s remains.

Authorities haven’t specified which skeletal parts were recovered at the location just north of Wells Gulch Road, roughly a mile east of U.S. Highway 50.

Birgfeld, 34, a mother of three children missing since June 28, 2007, was tentatively identified Wednesday using dental records, although a DNA comparison is expected to be completed. Mesa County Sheriff Stan Hilkey said Birgfeld’s remains appeared partially covered by dirt, most likely exposed by water or other natural causes after originally being buried there. The gulch is flushed seasonally by runoff from Grand Mesa.

“Personal items,” among them some of Birgfeld’s clothing, were also found at the scene, officials have said.

Frank Birgfeld said a Grand Junction memorial service will be organized for his daughter, happening sometime after the first week of April, when he and his wife, Suzanne, have tentative plans to take Paige Birgfeld’s children, including a 13-year-old daughter and two boys, 11 and 8, to Florida. The children are with Birgfeld’s second husband, Rob Dixon, in Pennsylvania.

Frank Birgfeld said he planned to drive back to the Front Range Thursday night, but only after a quick stop at Wells Gulch Road, where he left a wreath above the ravine where his daughter was found.

“I just don’t want to leave ...” he said, pausing and choked with emotion. “It’s just a place out there with a bunch of sagebrush. I wanted to do something.”


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