A squatter living in a trailer in remote Utah farmland has been named a suspect in the mysterious disappearance of a teenage farmer.
The suspect, James Brenner, 58, is being held on unrelated federal firearms charges in an Ogden jail, said a release Thursday from the FBI and the sheriff’s department in Utah’s Box Elder County.
The announcement came five weeks into the intense search for Dylan Rounds, 19, who had been living by himself and working a small farm in Utah’s northwest corner.
His last contact with his family, in Idaho, was a May 28 phone call with his grandmother. Rounds cut the call short, saying he had to get his grain truck under cover before it started to rain but that he would call back. He hasn’t been heard from since.
The shed where Rounds kept the truck is about five miles from his farm, where he lived in a trailer. Near the shed was a trailer where Brenner was living; an arrest affidavit filed last week said he had no ownership in the property but he was a friend of Rounds ‘family.
Rounds had apparently made it to that site after the phone call: The truck was there, and early in the search his boots were found behind a pile of dirt about 100 yards from the truck, his family has said.
The affidavit for Brenner’s arrest said he was interviewed June 7 in connection with Rounds’ disappearance, and that his trailer was searched on June 16. The search turned up ball ammunition, black powder and other items associated with muzzle-loading firearms, but no guns .
A few days later, a friend of Brenner’s told investigators that, sometime after June 7, Brenner had given to him “for safekeeping” three muzzle-loader guns and a .22-caliber rifle. The friend turned those weapons over to investigators.
Because of his felony convictions, Brenner is not allowed to own firearms, and he was arrested on suspicion of violating that prohibition. No charges have been filed in connection with Rounds’ disappearance.
A second man thought to have had contact with Rounds was also charged in federal court last week with being a restricted person in possession of a firearm, the East Idaho News reported. Chase Venstra, 41, is in custody pending a July 19 hearing.
Venstra has not been named a suspect or person of interest in Rounds’ disappearance, but he is thought to be the man with whom Rounds told family members he had a “weird run-in” on May 25. Rounds said a barefoot man who was “acting erratically” flagged him down on a gravel road and asked to use his phone.
Although Rounds’ family has organized multiple search events since the disappearance, the Box Elder County sheriff’s office on Wednesday requested that the public stay away from the farm so as not to compromise the investigation.
Rounds’ family is offering a $100,000 reward for information leading to his return and is posting frequent updates on a Facebook page. The Box Elder County sheriff’s office can be reached at 435-734-3800.