Crime And Law

Sheriff: Woman arrested in 2016 Mercer County homicide case, 2nd suspect dead

MERCER COUNTY — A 30-year-old Indiana woman was arrested and charged in connection to the killing of Ryan Zimmerman, whose remains were found in the county in 2016.

Sarah E. Buzzard, 30, of Marion, Indiana, was arrested Wednesday on charges of gross abuse of a corpse, tampering with evidence and grand theft auto.

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“She confessed to strangling and dismembering Ryan’s body,” Grey said Thursday morning. “We have her here now.”

In January of 2016, Zimmerman’s remains were found in the West Bank State Park just off of U.S. 127. His death was ruled a homicide.

A second suspect was identified as Naria Jenna Whitaker, 33, of Marion, Indiana, and when police attempted to arrest her Wednesday she died by suicide, Grey said. Whitaker was Buzzard’s wife and Grey said “she participated with Sarah in the crime.”

“My detectives never gave up,” Grey said. “A lot of people never gave us credit for being able to solve this.”

Grey said he anticipates additional charges coming in the case after they meet with prosecutors.

Zimmerman, who would have been 22 at the time his remains were found, was living in Columbus after having moved from Corbin, Kentucky. He had been reported as a missing person in November 2015, months before his remains were recovered. Zimmerman had relationships with Buzzard and Whitaker while he was living in Columbus, Grey said.

Zimmerman’s remains were officially identified about a year ago in June 2020.

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Over the last 14 months, Grey said the Mercer County Sheriff’s Office had “been very very busy.”

Grey said the department has been working with multiple law enforcement agencies to serve search warrants on various social media sites to obtain additional information on Zimmerman and his online communications.

Those search warrants led police to find where the killing happened and the vehicle that had been used to transport Zimmerman’s body from Columbus to Mercer County after he was killed and dismembered in Columbus, according to the Sheriff.

A search warrant served earlier this month where Zimmerman was killed uncovered what Grey described as “critical evidence” in the case.

Detectives were able to determine the car used to transport Zimmerman’s remains was traded into a car dealership after his remains were dumped. The car had been sold, but detectives spoke to the new owner and were able to gather “critical evidence” from the vehicle. The person who had purchased the car was not involved with the crime in any way and has fully cooperated with detectives, Grey said.

The series of search warrants led detectives Wednesday to both Marion, Indiana and Oak Island, North Carolina, where witnesses and suspects were interviewed simultaneously to avoid anyone talking to anyone about the case after the interviews.

Buzzard was arrested by Mercer County detectives, who already had a warrant for her arrest. When deputies went to arrest Whitaker, Grey said she pulled out a gun from her purse and fired a single shot, dying by suicide.

“It was one round that she fired and she died at the scene,” Grey said. “That certainly was not the goal of the operation.”

Grey said there are numerous people who deserve credit in helping solve Zimmerman’s homicide case, but pointed to Ohio BCI analyst Jennifer Lester as being able to “connect the dots.”

“She had that missing piece of the puzzle that we were trying so hard to provide,” Grey said.

Buzzard is expected to appear in Celina Municipal Court on Friday at 10:30 a.m.

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