YAMHILL COUNTY, Ore. — A medical examiner has confirmed the human remains found inside a vehicle pulled from the Willamette River last week are those of 77-year-old Ralph Brown, the former mayor of Cornelius who had been missing for a year.
Investigators from the Yamhill and Washington County Sheriff's Offices responded to Rogers Landing, a small park and boat launch near Newberg, on Friday, May 13 to investigate reports of a vehicle in the water.
Adventures With Purpose, a dive team that travels around the country to help families find missing loved ones, initially located the vehicle.
The car was located about 40 feet beneath the surface of the water, WCSO said. Divers from the team took a license plate from the vehicle, and a Yamhill County deputy was able to confirm that it was the car Brown had been driving when he disappeared.
Yamhill County deputies and the Adventures With Purpose team worked to pull the car from the river. Once it was ashore, investigators were able to confirm that there were human remains inside.
Members of Brown's family were at Rogers Landing on Friday.
"Although it is sad, it is not a sad day for us," said Megan Closson, Brown's granddaughter. "It is a happy day that we get the closure that we had wanted for so long. When I first got the call from my mom I just broke down in tears — happy tears. Because I was so glad that someone was still doing something and that … they gave us the answers."
According to Doug Bishop and Jared Leisek with Adventures With Purpose, this dive was their 10th search for Brown and their fourth search at this location. One of Brown's last cell phone pings kept them coming back.
"Oregon is our backyard, and Ralph was an incredible community figure," they told KGW. "It’s one of those cases that we could just not let go … especially with us being out on the road for the past year. We have learned, and we’ve grown so much ourselves with the sonar technology."
Brown was 76 at the time of his disappearance, and family members reported that he suffered from dementia. He committed his life to public service, serving as mayor of Cornelius and a Forest Grove School Board member. He was involved in the Oregon Road Runners Club, worked in multiple Oregon school districts as principal and vice principal and was a member of the United Church of Christ of Forest Grove.