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The Coat of Arms

The Student News Site of Menlo School

The Coat of Arms

The Student News Site of Menlo School

The Coat of Arms

MTerm Group Unearths Large Bones During Pacifica Trip

Photo courtesy of Ochoa

Finding bones on a school trip may seem exciting, spooky, or even humerus to some, but junior Noelle Lenden said her MTerm group’s discovery of large bones didn’t exactly petrify the then-10th graders. “Everyone was pretty unfazed,” Lenden said. 

Around 11 a.m. on May 22, 2023, Lenden and her classmates were helping to excavate a house in Pacifica’s hills that were hit by mudslides. As they worked, she scooped up a large chunk that she quickly tossed aside. “Then Caroline [Herndon, another then-sophomore] picks it up, and she’s like, ‘That’s weird.’ And we brush it off the dirt and it’s like a bone,” Lenden said.

Lenden and Herndon noted that they had found other objects in the dirt, but the bones stood out. “I was just like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe I’m finding these,’” Herndon said.

According to one of the group’s MTerm teachers, Franco Cruz-Ochoa, the first bone found was around six to eight inches in length. “I don’t know what animal it came from, but it definitely wasn’t like a chicken bone,” he said.

Cruz-Ochoa, an avid viewer of the TV series “Forensic Files,” began to wonder if the bones were human, especially after they found numerous other bones of a similar size soon after. 

The MTerm group was working with Rebuilding Together, a charity organization that helps Americans rebuild when their homes are impacted by natural disasters. After the discovery, Cruz-Ochoa explained the situation to the lead volunteer on site who then called the police. 

The Pacifica Police Department asked the volunteer to drop the bones off at the police station. The department did not respond to The Coat of Arms’ requests for comment nor for confirmation of taking possession of the bones.

The police’s lack of immediate interest in the case piqued the curiosity of fellow history teacher Katina Ballantyne, who had been texting Cruz-Ochoa as the events were unfolding. “I was concerned because if they are human bones, that would clearly be a botched investigation and ruin the crime scene,” Ballantyne wrote in an email to The Coat of Arms. “As someone who has seen every episode of Netflix’s ‘Unsolved Mysteries,’ I’ve learned a thing or two about botched investigations.”

The bones were found amid dirt and mud that had washed down from the hill above the house during the heavy rains and mudslides that occurred in early 2023. Its owner and resident, Jack Smith, explained that the land beyond his property is owned by the federal government as a part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and he said that the discovery of the bones didn’t surprise him. “There’s all sorts of stuff that goes on up there,” Smith said.

Smith had just gotten out of the hospital after being treated for thyroid cancer when the group of Menlo students volunteered at his home, and he said he was grateful for their assistance in clearing the dirt and mud on the side of his house. “They did a heck of a job,” Smith said as he walked along a concrete pathway — once covered in feet of mud — where some of the bones were found.

The consensus among the event’s witnesses seems to be that the bones were most likely not human, possibly a deer or dog. Yet for some, like Cruz-Ochoa, the prospect that they might have been human still intrigues. “Maybe one day in the future, something will pop up on the news about bones being discovered, and then we’ll be like, ‘Hey, those are the ones we found,’” Cruz-Ochoa said. “But I feel like we’re probably just never gonna hear back.”

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About the Contributor
Geoffrey Franc, Assistant News Editor

Number of years in The Coat of Arms: 3

Favorite aspect of journalism: Telling people's stories and learning about the world through them.

Interests outside of school: history, running, and Mock Trial

Class of 2025

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