LAFAYETTE — The nearly three-month search for Mickey Shunick came to an end Thursday when officials positively identified the remains found Tuesday morning in a remote area in Evangeline Parish as those of the missing university student.
Lafayette police made the announcement late Thursday after the LSU FACES Lab made the identification.
“She deserved a long and happy life filled with love and laughter, but unfortunately today’s news has proved otherwise,” the Shunick family said in a statement Thursday.
Shunick’s body was found buried near some grave sites in a small cemetery about 100 yards off La. 10 near Mamou.
Volunteer coordinator Margaret Bearb, a family friend, wiped away tears after she learned of the identification Thursday afternoon.
Both the family and volunteers had continued to hold onto that “little ray of hope” that Shunick would be returned safely, she said.
“When it’s reality, it’s just so different,” Bearb said.
Authorities have declined to say whether Brandon Scott Lavergne, the man accused of kidnapping and killing Shunick, led them to the body, but they have confirmed that Lavergne, 33, was checked out of the jail for almost nine hours on the day her body was discovered.
Shunick, a University of Louisiana at Lafayette student, was last seen shortly before 2 a.m. May 19, bicycling from a friend’s home on Ryan Street near downtown to her parents’ home on Governor Miro, about five miles away. She was an avid cyclist and animal lover.
Lavergne was arrested July 5 on counts of first-degree murder and aggravated kidnapping after police investigated a tip that connected him to a white truck seen on surveillance video the day she disappeared.
District Attorney Mike Harson declined to say whether Lavergne has decided to cooperate with authorities, or whether Lavergne had struck a plea deal that could potentially reduce his exposure to the death penalty.
The District Attorney’s Office announced its intention to seek the death penalty after Lavergne was indicted in July on two counts of first-degree murder in Shunick’s disappearance and in the July 1999 death of Lisa Pate.
Lavergne was a person of interest in Pate’s death as early as 2000. He was brought before a grand jury in 2008 in that case, but the grand jury took no action.
Lavergne, an offshore worker from rural St. Landry Parish, is a registered sex offender who was released from prison in 2008 after serving eight years on an aggravated oral sexual battery conviction for tying up, blindfolding and then sexually assaulting an 18-year-old woman in Evangeline Parish in 1999.
“Let us remember to be inspired by who Mickey was: her contagious smile, her love for all creatures, her devotion to family and friends, her passion for her students (for whom she served as a role model), and last but not least, the ray of sunshine she projects that will continue to make our world a little brighter,” the family’s statement said.
Shunick’s disappearance led to a groundswell of community support and prompted a full-time volunteer search effort.
The volunteers also issued a statement Thursday. Like the Shunick family, the volunteers thanked the community for showing them “the amazing power of love and humanity.”
“Thousands of strangers, nearly all of whom had never heard the name Mickey Shunick before May 19th, came from all across Louisiana and the rest of the country to help a family find their daughter and a group of young people find their friend,” the statement said.
While everyone hoped and prayed for Shunick’s safe return, “this is the result we all feared, but now we are done with searching and have to begin healing,” the volunteers wrote.
“Let us now grieve together for our loss of such a bright light in our lives,” the statement says.
A memorial service will be planned at some point in the future, Bearb said.