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Detectives seek clues into death of Cotati man discovered on Sonoma State University campus

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Help support the family of Kirk Kimberly through YouCaring.

Detectives on Friday began tracing the final days of a young Cotati man whose body was found buried at Sonoma State University about two weeks after he was reported missing.

The remains of Kirk Kimberly, 18, a 2016 Rancho Cotate High School graduate, were discovered Wednesday. He was identified through fingerprints taken during an autopsy Thursday night, Sonoma County Sheriff’s Sgt. Spencer Crum said.

A cause of death was not released, but the case is being investigated as a homicide.

“Based on the autopsy results, we feel his death was caused at the hands of another,” he said.

Investigators were asking for the public’s help in finding out who was responsible.

Kimberly, who was not a student at the university, was reported missing by his father Oct. 17. He was last seen leaving his Cotati home on a bicycle to visit a friend in Rohnert Park, according to a missing person’s alert from Cotati police issued that day.

Crum said detectives would try to piece together his whereabouts from about Oct. 15 to Oct. 17. They are looking for anyone who may have talked to him or had contact with him of any kind.

“We’re going to retrace that last couple days of his life,” Crum said.

A man who answered the door at a Cotati home connected to Kimberly’s family, according to public records, declined to answer questions. The man at the home on Oretsky Way, a street lined with middle-class homes and trees sporting fall colors, referred all inquiries to the Sheriff’s Office.

Kimberly was scheduled to start work at a Rohnert Park machine shop Oct. 24 after being hired Oct. 14, said Teri Haggerty, a machine shop manager. She received an email from Kimberly the day he was reported missing, saying how excited he was to learn a trade, she said.

“We’re all really sad,” Haggerty said. “We were looking forward to him being part of our crew.”

Kimberly’s 12th-grade English teacher, Denise Tranfaglia, described him as a quiet, polite student who often could be seen riding his skateboard, a boom box perched on his shoulder.

Tranfaglia said Kimberly graduated despite struggling with grades. He talked about scuba diving with his family and enrolling in Santa Rosa Junior College after working for a few years.

She last saw him when he received his diploma last spring “with a beaming smile.”

Tranfaglia knew he’d gone missing and was crestfallen to learn it was his body that was found at the nearby university. Current students also expressed shock at the grim discovery.

“The kids are upset,” she said. “We tell them work hard and life will be great after high school. Not always. The real world is a bit scary. I hope we find out soon what happened.”

Matt Marshall, director of student services at the Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District, said emails were being sent to parents, and grief counseling was offered to students and faculty members.

Kimberly was the district’s third student killed since the start of the school year. In August, two sisters, ages 7 and 9, drowned when their mother’s car crashed into the Petaluma River.

“Our community has had its share of tragedy this year,” Marshall said.

Meanwhile, the edge of the Sonoma State parking lot near where Kimberly’s body was found was still cordoned off Friday afternoon, and law enforcement officers were still on the scene. Orange cones and signs that said “full” stood in the entrance to the mostly empty lot.

A landscaper stumbled upon the remains on Wednesday. The body was facedown in a shallow grave about 100 yards to the west of parking lot M. The grounds worker was clearing brush near a creek down a path leading from the parking lot, which is used daily by students and by visitors attending performances at the Green Music Center directly to the east.

Sheriff’s Lt. Tim Duke, who is managing the investigative teams working the case, on Friday night said he could not yet reveal any details about the physical condition of the teen’s body, such as possible fatal wounds or injuries or how long the body had been in the grave.

Anyone with information is asked to call Detective Joe Horsman at 707-565-2185.

Staff Writer J.D. Morris contributed to this report.

Help support the family of Kirk Kimberly through YouCaring.

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