Arlington mystery of unknown skater solved

Posted Aug. 20, 2011, at 8:32 a.m.

WASHINGTON – The mystery of the unknown figure skater appears to have been solved.

According to her family, the skater is Rachel Stecher, now a 19-year-old from suburban Ashburn, Va., in her second year at the Air Force Academy. It was her picture that was found in an unidentified urn that had been unearthed at Arlington National Cemetery.

For months, Army special agents had been trying to determine whose remains they were. Their only lead was the photograph of the young skater, which was published Friday on the front page of The Washington Post.

In an interview Friday morning, Rachel’s mother, Kate Stecher, said Rachel’s grandmother’s ashes were in the urn.

Rachel was close with her grandmother, which is why the family included the photograph of her along with the ashes, she said.

A spokesman for the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command could not immediately confirm whom the remains belonged to.

Rachel Stecher was inspired to join the military by her grandfather, a retired chief warrant officer who served in the Army for more than 30 years and was a veteran of World War II and Korea.

Rachel became interested in the military when she saw a Navy SEAL training exercise in Virginia Beach, her mother said. And on a summer visit to the Air Force Academy during high school, she was transfixed with the place. Her mother recalled her saying: “I don’t want to go back. I just want to stay.”

Her grandmother was Gwyn Stecher, who died in August 2001 and was buried at Arlington. Adolph Stecher, the retired chief warrant officer, died a couple of years later. He was buried in a coffin that was supposed to be below his wife’s urn.

But in 2005, the urn was found in an excess dirt pile at the cemetery by a contractor, and the urn was turned over to the cemetery. Then last October, as Army officials continued to investigate widespread problems there, a worker told the cemetery’s director that there was a mass grave that held multiple sets of remains.

When officials opened the grave, they found eight sets of cremated remains – including the urn with the photograph of the young skater.

Kate Stecher said the family has no ill will toward the cemetery, saying they believed that “it’s just human error.”

And she said the family was grateful that the remains can now be reburied in the right spot.

“We’re happy that she’s going to be back where she belongs,” Kate Stecher said. “It’s a shame that this happened.”

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