DNA tests say body found in Vernon Hills is Nick Steward
BY KATLYN SMITH and ELISABETH MISTRETTA email@example.com | @Katlyn_eSmith firstname.lastname@example.org | @e_mistretta October 7, 2013 7:20PM
Multiple law enforcement agencies are combing the south side of Vernon Hills for a missing Lake Villa man. Nick Steward, 33, was last seen driving home from work Sept. 20. Vernon Hills police found his white Saturn Aura near an apartment complex Thursday
Updated: December 7, 2013 2:45AM
A report from the Lake County Major Crime Task Force confirmed a body found late last week in a wooded area in Vernon Hills is Nick Steward, Lake County Coroner Thomas Rudd said Monday.
The Lake Villa man, 33, who is formerly of Vernon Hills, had been missing since Sept. 20 and his disappearance launched a search joined by hundreds of family and friends.
Although the final cause of death won’t be known for about two more weeks, the preliminary cause is apparently self-inflicted wounds from a “sharp instrument,” possibly a knife or a razor blade, Rudd said.
The North Eastern Illinois Regional Crime Lab conducted a DNA test and on Monday confirmed the identity of the body, which was badly decomposed due to exposure to wildlife.
Steward suffered two cut wounds to his right wrist and a single cut wound to his left wrist, Rudd said, adding that he also had a cut to his left upper arm.
The coroner said there also appeared to be a cut to his neck, but it could have been made by prolonged exposure to wildlife.
As has happened since Steward went missing more than two weeks ago, family, friends and former classmates from Libertyville High School showed an outpouring of support and donations.
An administrator of the Facebook Page “Find Nick Steward,” which gained more than 16,000 followers so far, is now updating supporters on Steward’s wife, Megan Steward, and his 1-year-old son.
“As you can imagine, this has been a difficult time for all of Nick’s family and friends,” the administrator’s post said Saturday. “Some of us are just now looking at all of these comments here on Facebook and are overwhelmed by the support all of you have shown. It brings tears to my eyes to know that so many of you cared to search for a man that many of you had never even met.
“Nick’s wife, Megan, is surrounded by family at this time,” the post continued. “We are helping her work through what needs to be done, and she has asked me to post this update here to thank all of you for overwhelming support, prayers and generosity. She is struggling to find the right words, but will be posting ... You guys are the most generous group of people and we thank you all, from the bottom of our hearts.”
Funeral arrangements are not yet available, but supporters are collecting money for memorial services at http://www.youcaring.com/help-a-neighbor/find-nick-steward/92020.
The first clue to finding Steward arrived Thursday, Oct. 3 when, while on another police call, a Vernon Hills officer noticed Steward’s white, 2008 Saturn Aura in a nearby parking lot of an apartment complex on the 900 block of Westmoreland Drive. The officer recognized the car based on missing person information provided by the Lake Villa police department and Steward’s family and friends.
The vehicle was found in good condition, a Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office spokeswoman said. Authorities took it to a secure location to search for evidence, and said its appearance did not indicate foul play.
Meanwhile, police launched a search of the grounds and a cornfield to the south of the apartment complex, which drew roughly a dozen police and fire departments from throughout Lake County, including the Lake County sheriff’s office, Lake County Forest Preserve Police, McHenry police, Linconshire police, the Countryside Fire Protection District and the Vernon Hills, Mundelein and Gurnee police departments.
Numerous K9 units spent about three hours scouring the massive cornfield that is adjacent to the lot where the car was discovered, until they discovered Steward’s body at about 10:30 p.m.
The search drew a large crowd to the apartment complex, and they remained late into the evening Thursday.
Resident Stacy Schwager, 26, said police questioned neighbors for clues, including her and her roommate, Brian Kestin, 30.
“They asked us if we had seen or heard anything unusual and questions like that,” she said Thursday.
Schwager and Kestin said their neighborhood it typically a quiet place.
“This is our tiny, little, quiet section,” Schwager said. “Stuff like this doesn’t happen here.”
Steward was last seen Sept. 20 as he left his job at MC Machinery Systems Inc. in Wood Dale, where he worked as a mechanic, and he was driving the Saturn Aura.
The Illinois Tollway Authority told police Steward’s went through the northbound Touhy Avenue Toll Plaza northbound on I-294 at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 20, and he also had a telephone conversation with his employer at about the same time.
Steward’s disappearance sparked a massive, volunteer-run search designed to cover 225 square miles that stretched from Lake Forest to Wood Dale Sunday, Sept. 29.
The “Find Nick Steward” Facebook page also was set up with Steward family photos.
His wife reported him missing after he didn’t return home from work. Late last month, she thanked the more than 100 volunteers that gathered for the search.
“From the bottom of my heart, I am just so stunned by the outreach and the support from the community and just everyone who has been just so wonderful to us,” she said.