WOONSOCKET, S.D. (KELO) — Nearly three years to the day after Eugene Prins went missing near Woonsocket, authorities have announced that remains found in the area belonged to him.
In 2021, one year after Prins’ disappearance, we spoke with Colton Hotchkiss, Prins’ youngest brother, who told us then that while he hoped Prins would be found alive, he more realistically was seeking some form of closure.
That closure has been a long time coming, but a chance for it may now be here. We spoke to Hotchkiss again today, March 29, 2023. He said that at this time he’s doing about as well as one can be in this situation, noting that it’s been an emotional time for the past several days.
Hotchkiss said that part of him is relieved at the chance to finally lay his brother to rest. “But there’s another part of me that — obviously it sucks that I’m never going to be able to see my brother again,” he said. “In my heart and my brain we officially know he is gone, and that part’s really stuck with me — it hurts a lot.”
For the past two years, since our last interview, Hotchkiss said that he knew on some level that Prins was not coming back, “but you always hold out that hope that he’s gonna come back,” he said.
That hope is now gone, with confirmation coming just days ago that the remains found in August of 2022 were Prins’. “It hurt a lot,” Hotchkiss said.
The family was not entirely blindsided by the news. Hotchkiss said they were notified last year in August when remains had been found that there was a possibility they belonged to Prins. “Word was spreading through the community quite quick about it, and they wanted to tell us before we heard it from anyone else,” he explained.
DNA from the remains was sent in for testing, and months later, a match was confirmed.
Hotchkiss said he was at work when his father called him. “They were getting ready to do a press release,” he said. “He figured it would be better for me to hear it from them than over Facebook.”
“My first initial thought was ‘it’s over,'” said Hotchkiss, describing his headspace in the minutes following the news. “The years of wondering and running scenarios through my head of ‘is he gonna come back’ or ‘are those his remains they found,’ or questions about what they had found — are over.”
While those specific questions were put to bed, a new one immediately took its place. What now?
That’s the question Hotchkiss and his family must now confront. “The wondering is over — but what’s the next steps we take as a family — even as a community,” he asked.
Hotchkiss said he’s now looking for a way to get what he described as proper vindication for his brother, “to give him a goodbye he’s worthy of,” he said.
Beyond the task of giving Prins a proper goodbye, Hotchkiss said he hopes that healing is in the future. “For not just me,” he said. “For my brother, my mom, my dad, my sister, aunt, cousins; healing for our family.”
A silver lining for Hotchkiss throughout the whole ordeal has been the support provided by the community. “We’ve gotten so many text messages, messages on Facebook, phone calls. People have set up Go Fund Me’s for funeral expenses — it’s overwhelming,” said Hotchkiss.
This support went back to the very first day Prins went missing, said Hotchkiss.
“Thank you. Thank you for all the support. For the ones that helped come do searches; for the ones that reached out; for the ones — basically anyone who’s followed Eugene’s journey over the last three years, and our family’s journey — thank you. We can’t send enough thank-yous to cover everybody,” said Hotchkiss.
Most of the questions Hotchkiss has surrounding his brother’s disappearance have now been answered, but a few do remain. “Mainly, how did the bones get there,” he asked. “At the time there was no way anybody could’ve walked out there.”
Hotchkiss described good relations with the different agencies that have been involved throughout the process. “They’re open to all of our suggestions and everything,” he said. “They take mostly everything we say into account.”
In the announcement of the identification of the remains, the Sanborn County State’s Attorney stated that there was no evidence of any criminal activity with regard to the matter.