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UCSB anthropology students helped in search for Montecito teen's remains

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Posted at 5:55 PM, Jul 23, 2021

UC Santa Barbara Anthropology undergraduate students helped in the search for the remains of Jack Cantin, the teen who has been missing since the 2018 mudslide in Montecito.

The group of students and their professor tell KSBY that they began to uncover the remains of Cantin over Memorial Day.

The January 9, 2018 mudslide took the lives of 23 people.

In the weeks, months, and years that followed, there were countless searches to find two-year-old Lydia Sutthithepa and 17-year-old John "Jack" Cantin.

An estimated four million bucket loads of mud and debris was moved to no avail.

"I mean, we're looking for tiny things that are the same color as dirt," said UCSB Forensic Field Assistant Gabriella Campbell.

The group of UCSB undergrad research assistants, with Assistant Professor Dr. Danielle Kurin, helped with the search after being contacted by Cantin's mom, Kim.

"It was like a needle in a haystack situation at the site," said Forensic Field Assistant Rosie Morales. "You just look at what you're faced with - these mounds of dirt and debris."

They spent hours and hours volunteering out in the field, targeting hot zones within the 100+ acre search area and researching in the lab.

"It's been a great feeling," said Forensic Field Assistant Griffin Fox. "Something I'd never really thought that I would do."

Along the way, they found artifacts and in May, they say they started finding the remains of Cantin.

"It is gratifying to be able to see the progress and be able to give closure," said Forensic Field Assistant Nikki Torno.

"Kim told us, she said, 'if this had happened and my son had survived, he would have been out there digging with you guys,'" Campbell added.

Campbell was there for the discoveries and also when they told Kim and handed her the remains.

"That's something I'll never forget," Campbell said. "It was just, you could feel her relief and that closure that she needed."

The students tell me that Cantin's mom was their motivator when they seemed to be losing hope.

They also say they're honored to use their education to help bring the Cantin family closure.

"And it was an incredible payoff because now Jack can be laid to rest," Morales said.

The location of where the remains were found is being kept confidential.

The students say they will be a part of the burial when Jack is laid to rest next to his father, Dave, who was also killed in the mudslide.

The remains of two-year-old Lydia have not been found. They say that there's a less than 5% chance they will since the bones of a child are not fully formed so they are much softer and decompose much faster than an adolescent or an adult.

Kim Cantin released a statement saying in part, "I am most grateful to everyone who helped in this search for my son's remains as collectively, all the efforts, all the prayers, all the science and technology helped find Jack."

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office has not confirmed the findings, only saying it's reviewing the UCSB forensic report and that Cantin's missing person's case remains open.