Missing Trenton man’s death ruled suicide, but family believes he was murdered

TRENTON, Mo. -- On June 7, 2017, family says Tanner Ward left home, took off walking and told his parents he’d be back in about 30 minutes. But the 19-year-old never returned.

“My brother was a happy person," Kelsey Ward said. "He loved his baby girl, his girlfriend, all of us. He was making plans for his future."

When Tanner Ward didn’t return home to his family, his relatives filed a missing person’s report.

Six months later, Trenton Police said on Dec. 4, two high school students were walking in a wooded area near Shanklin Avenue when they made a heart-wrenching discovery.

Police said the teenagers found Tanner Ward’s decomposed body hanging from a 25-foot tree near an abandoned grain elevator about three blocks from this family’s home.

Investigators said a preliminary autopsy report showed Ward took his own life. His family disagrees.

“People who are making plans to get their lives back on track do not kill themselves," Kelsey Ward said. "We do not believe my brother committed suicide. We believe someone killed him."

“He wanted to get his life straightened out, and he had planned to ask his girlfriend to marry him,” Tanner's sister Katie Ashworth said.

In the meantime, Trenton Police Chief Tommy Wright said his officers did everything they could to investigate Tanner Ward’s disappearance and subsequent death.

“We have stacks of paperwork on this case," Wright said. "At this point, we have to wait for what the evidence shows us, and when we don’t have that evidence, we just don’t have a case. It’s unfortunate, and our prayers go out to the family."

But Tanner Ward's family members aren't the only ones who doubt the suicide ruling.

“This was not a suicide," said Susan Alexander, a member of the Missing and Endangered Northwest Missourians and Surrounding Areas group. "Basically because there’s evidence that shows this man was moved from one location to another location, and there is outstanding evidence that hasn’t even been looked at."

The group is now consulting Ward’s family and circulating an online petition asking the Trenton Police Department to allow an outside law enforcement agency to come in and investigate the 19-year-old's death.

“We just want to know who did it,” Kelsey Ward said.