Investigators with the DNR continue their efforts to find the person responsible for the death of a turkey hunter in Lewis County on the opening day of spring gobbler season. Thirty-two year old Shawn Stewart of Walkersville was killed on opening day. His body was discovered a day later after authorities launched a wide-scale search.
DNR Lt. Jim Vance in Elkins tells MetroNews Stewart was killed by a shotgun blast that struck his face. Vance says that information leads them to believe the shooter probably knew they had shot somebody.
"A lot of hunters in that area passed along information to us,” said Vance. "It was on a public hunting area so you’ve got people coming in from other states and other places in West Virginia to hunt. We’re gathering a lot of information from them."
Stewart and two friends left the Vandalia Ramp on Stonewall Jackson Lake around 5:00 that morning. Stewart was piloting the craft and dropped off each of his companions at different spots, before heading to his spot on a specific ridge. The party had agreed to regroup at 11:00am. The buddies became concerned when Stewart didn’t show and launched their own search, knowing about where he’d be hunting. At 3:00pm they contacted the DNR to report a missing person. Later DNR Conservation Officers asked the State Police helicopter to aid in the search. Searchers finally found him around 2:00pm Tuesday afternoon.
"I think he followed all the safety rules,” said Vance about Stewart’s position. "Back up against the tree, out in the open. He was set up to call a turkey and he was what I always like to call ‘defensive hunting’."
Vance says his officers and State Troopers are into the "grunt work" of the investigation. They’re collecting evidence from everybody who may have been there at the time Stewart was killed. Vance says the process now is to eliminate as many people as possible as suspects. He admits however, it’s a time consuming process.
"I think we’ll solve this,” said Vance. "I think working together we’ll solve this."
The legislature just passed a new law that would make it a felony to fail to render aid to a hunter. The law came after a similar shooting last year in Kanawha County. Ironically however, the law will not apply in Stewart’s death because it’s yet to be signed by Governor Manchin and is not yet in effect.