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Body of missing Duquesne grad student Dakota James found in Ohio River

Megan Guza
| Monday, March 6, 2017, 11:39 a.m.
A sign posted on the North Side shows missing Duquesne University graduate student Dakota James.
A sign posted on the North Side shows missing Duquesne University graduate student Dakota James.
Photos provided by the Pittsburgh Department of Public Safety show missing Duquesne University graduate student Dakota James.
Pittsburgh Department of Public Safety
Photos provided by the Pittsburgh Department of Public Safety show missing Duquesne University graduate student Dakota James.

The six-week search for a missing Duquesne University graduate student ended Monday when police pulled the body of Dakota James from the Ohio River near Neville Island.

Investigators now will try to determine how James ended up dead and in the water.

Pittsburgh police said during a brief news conference that James' body had been turned over to the Allegheny County Medical Examiner, who will work to determine how the 23-year-old died and whether foul play was involved.

Aside from the confirmation and brief update, police said little about the circumstances surrounding the discovery.

Robinson police and a water rescue crew pulled the body from the river shortly before 9:30 a.m., said Pittsburgh police Assistant Chief Lavonnie Bickerstaff.

Bickerstaff would not describe the evidence that allowed investigators to identify James, but they said he was wearing the same clothes he wore the night he disappeared: a red hoodie, jeans and a Columbia jacket. Bickerstaff would not reveal whether James' wallet or cell phone was found on his body.

She would not say whether police initially suspected foul play or whether there were signs of trauma.

“The medical examiner's office will examine Dakota, and we will give additional information when that examination has been completed,” Bickerstaff said.

James had been missing since a night out with coworkers Jan. 25. Security footage shows some of his movements upon parting ways with friends, but the trail went cold at Fort Duquesne Boulevard, police said.

Footage showed James walking through Katz Plaza in the Cultural District in Downtown Pittsburgh onto Scott Place, heading toward Fort Duquesne Boulevard and, presumably, his apartment on the North Side.

Police said last week it is unclear whether James turned left or right when he emerged from the alley onto Fort Duquesne Boulevard and there is no footage showing him crossing a bridge to the North Shore or doubling back to Scott Place.

“Dakota and his family have been in our prayers throughout this difficult ordeal,” Duquesne President Ken Gormley said in a prepared statement. “I am deeply saddened to learn of the tragic outcome, and I extend my deepest sympathy to Dakota's family and friends on behalf of the entire Duquesne University community.”

Police said the James family had been notified of Monday morning's discovery.

A few hours before the announcement, James' mother, Pamela James, took to Facebook, a platform on which she has been vocal since her son went missing. She wrote:

“Dakota did not do this to himself, he does not do drugs, he does not smoke, he works full time, he attends grad school full time, he's a runner, biker, swimmer and health conscious about what he puts in his body, he drinks alcohol but by no means was wasted like people think to have walked into the river. Dakota did not do this to himself!”

Mayor Bill Peduto offered his condolences in a prepared statement. He also thanked law enforcement officers.

“My heart goes out to the family of Mr. James and the entire Duquesne University community,” he said. “I cannot begin to imagine what it is like to lose a young loved one like Dakota.”

Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8519 or

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