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Skeleton found by San Diego hikers ID'd as 'ghost of Manzanar'

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Posted at 8:45 AM, Jan 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-04 11:45:18-05

(KGTV) — A skeleton discovered in the Sierra Nevada by two San Diego hikers has been identified as a man who had left a Japanese internment camp nearly 75 years ago.

The skeletal remains were discovered near California's second-highest peak in October 2019. Tyler Hofer and Brandon Follin were in their second day of a hike up Mount Williamson when they came across a human skull.

"I look down and see what appears to be a different color rock. Instead of gray, it's white," Hofer told 10News last year. "The arms were crossed on its chest ... as if you were lying in a casket or coffin ... almost as if someone laid it there peacefully."

RELATED: Local hikers find mystery skeleton in the Sierra Nevada mountains

Inyo County Sheriff's Department said Friday that DNA from the bones has been matched to a relative of Giichi Matsumura, an artist who was caught in a freak snow storm in the rugged mountains in August 1945.

Matsumura, a 46-year-old gardener from Santa Monica, was among 110,000 Japanese Americans sent to internment camps in remote areas during World War II. He was one of the 10,000 who ended up at the Manzanar internment camp about 200 miles north of Los Angeles.

According to the Associated Press, a group of prisoners would sneak out at night to go fishing for days, evading guard towers armed with machine guns to return with trout caught in lakes and streams near Mount Williamson.

RELATED: Bones found by hikers may be those of Japanese American from internment camp

On one trip, Matsumura became separated from the group after he stopped to paint. A snowstorm quickly swept through the region and his body was later found by the fishermen. He was laid to rest in the mountains. His death became a subject of local legend and rumors as his resting place was lost to time.

Matsumura left behind a wife, a daughter, three sons, a brother and his father, who were all living in the camp at the time. His remains will reportedly be laid to rest at Woodlawn Cemetery in Santa Monica where his wife is buried, according to his grandson.

"I'm just honored to be part of uncovering this mystery, because that's what it is," Hofer, a local youth pastor, says. "That gives me a lot of joy knowing someone is going to get closure. That is someone's loved one."