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Teen who disappeared in winter storm died of exposure, Natrona County coroner says
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Teen who disappeared in winter storm died of exposure, Natrona County coroner says

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Community Prayer Vigil for Joey Peterson

Lead Pastor Mike Fackler leads a prayer during a Community Prayer Vigil for Joey Peterson at Highland Park Community Church. The teen went missing in November, and his body was found last month.

A 16-year-old Natrona County boy who disappeared last year in a winter storm died of exposure to the elements, county authorities said Wednesday.

Law enforcement say they have closed their investigation into the death of Joey Peterson, who in late November left his family’s rural home wearing only a sweatshirt and pajamas.

Hours later, a winter storm arrived in the area.

Despite search efforts that included assistance from 10 emergency agencies and scores of volunteers, Peterson was not found until Sunday, when two people on horseback came upon his body about four miles from his home near Goose Creek Circle.

Natrona County Coroner James Whipps identified the body as Peterson’s and, he told the Star-Tribune on Wednesday morning, an autopsy indicated the boy died as the result of hypothermia and exposure. The death was ruled accidental, Whipps said.

A sheriff’s spokesman said early Wednesday afternoon that law enforcement had closed its investigation and determined there was no criminal activity related to Peterson’s death.

Sgt. Taylor Courtney said the investigators found that Peterson ran away from home and when weather changed quickly, he was caught in the storm, dying of exposure to the elements.

Peterson, who authorities have said lived with high-functioning autism but was not self-sufficient, was found in an area that was searched last year, when he was likely obscured by cactus, grass and sage brush.

During the search, authorities called upon assistance from a Black Hawk helicopter, drones, horses and dogs.

“When you’re searching for a missing person ... if you miss by an inch, you miss by a mile,” Courtney said Monday during a press briefing following discovery of the boy’s body.

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Crime and Courts Reporter

Shane Sanderson joined the Star-Tribune in 2017. He covers courts and law enforcement agencies in Natrona County and across the state. Shane studied journalism at the University of Missouri and worked at newspapers there before moving to Wyoming.

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