Police: Remains found under a bridge likely student who vanished in 1998

Robert Kovack "was a hard worker," his mother said. "He loved helping and doing for others."

Story highlights

  • Robert Kovack vanished in September 1998
  • Police say skeletal remains found under a bridge likely his

(CNN)Robert Kovack was last seen on a Friday evening in September 1998, withdrawing money from an ATM in Blacksburg, Virginia. He was near the campus of Virginia Tech, where he attended graduate school.

He was heading home to his parents' residence in Rivesville, West Virginia, according to his roommates.
    But he never made it there.
    "He always called before coming home for fear of us not being here," mother Jacqueline Kovack told CNN on Friday.
    His car, a Geo Tracker, was found five days later in West Virginia, on the route toward his hometown.
    It was parked near the New River Gorge Bridge, and was out of gas.
    For 17 years, there was no solid lead on what happened to the student. Some of the details surrounding the day he went missing have been documented on the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.
    His family always held on to hope -- even after the grim announcement released by West Virginia State Police -- nearly two decades after he went missing.
    A crew preparing for repairs on the New River Gorge Bridge was working under the bridge Thursday when it discovered human skeletal remains, according to a news release.
    "Preliminary investigation supports there was evidence discovered at the scene, which indicate the remains could potentially be that of a 25-year-old Robert L. Kovack," the release said.
    Police said they found a wallet with identification and keys that belonged to Kovack. The remains will be processed before a positive confirmation is determined, according to the news release. The investigation is ongoing.
    "Only time will tell," his mother told CNN. "It's a great possibility that it is Robert, but I will not say definitely. After 18 years, it's hard, but there is still that glimmer of hope that he could possibly be out there somewhere. How would you feel if it was your child?"
    Though investigators are perhaps as close to an answer as they have been in nearly 20 years, many mysteries still surround Robert Kovack's vanishing.

    'He was a hard worker'

    Robert Kovack was studying architecture when he went missing, his mother said.
    "He was a great person, very fun. People loved being around him," she said. "He didn't have any enemies that I know of. People never had anything bad to say about him.. and that's not from a mother's point of view. Anyone's point of view."
    Kovack put some of his architecture skills to use, working for Habitat for Humanity, an organization that builds homes for families in need around the world, she said.
    "He was a hard worker," she said. "He loved helping and doing for others."
    During the investigation, the Kovacks grew increasingly frustrated with the lack of progress in finding him. The family even resorted to going to a psychic for some answers, according to a report in Collegiate Times, a Virginia Tech newspaper.
    The area in which the remains were found is not necessarily unusual for such a finding. More than four dozen bodies have been found under the bridge since the search for Kovack began, West Virginia State Police Sgt. Kenneth Tawes told the Roanoke Times.
    The most recent remains were that of a suicide, Tawes said.
    Robert Kovack's mother does not believe he killed himself.
    He had a job lined up at a local architecture firm and he was just "waiting to graduate," she said.
    "There is just no way," she said. "He loved life ... he had a full life ahead of him."
    She said there are so many unanswered questions.
    "Things don't add up. They never have, and they never will."