SPARTANBURG, SC (WSPA) — The family of a South Carolina man who was last seen near a shredding machine at a recycling plant in Greer received some closure today after a judge ruled that the missing worker is legally dead.
Alex Burrell Gordon was declared legally dead today after a judge ruled that microscopic pieces of skin, fat and bones that were found stuck under a recycling shredder conveyor belt provided enough evidence to conclude that he died inside the machine.
“The trail of the evidence is leading us to believe that Alex [Burrell Gordon] may have simply fallen into the shredder while accomplishing the clearing of the bin,” said attorney Charles Hodge, who is representing the father of the missing man.
“The machine was operational at the time that we believe he cleared the debris. We don’t know that for a fact, but it makes sense. And again, we have to verify it through proper investigation, but the machine was ongoing and running. And it’s very, very powerful,” Hodge said.
He was last seen by coworkers loading a shredding machine on May 5th during an overnight shift at Industrial Recovery and Recycling, according to an OSHA investigation.
Workers noticed he was missing about an hour later. They stopped the shredder to see if Alex Burrell Gordon had perhaps fallen inside but found nothing out of the ordinary.
However, workers later noticed something strange stuck under the conveyor belt. It was just a handful of flesh-like material, and so they suspected that perhaps a small animal like a cat had fallen into the machine.
And so the shredder continued to run, although Alex was still missing.
The remains discovered by workers were tested by Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Deputies. The results came back as “non-human” based on a blood test at the scene. The sample did not contain human blood. However, weeks later the dried-out sample was rehydrated, and investigators found microscopic pieces of a human body that matched the DNA of Alex Burrell Gordon’s parents, according to the Spartanburg County Coroner.
During that time more than 60,000 pounds of plastic recycling material had gone through the shredder, complicating the search to find additional evidence of a body.
Without a body, Alex’s disappearance has been a missing person’s case, leaving his family without an opportunity for closure.
SC OSHA cited the plant for several safety violations after an investigation following the disappearance, but the plant has a history of safety violations.
Industrial Recovery and Recycling was investigated and fined three times in the past 10 years for serious safety violations. First in 2012, again in 2017, and this year after the disappearance.
According to the new OSHA, “Interviews determined that there were no specific safety rules for the shredder machine, and even if there were, some employees worked one way on the line while others did it another. However, employees bypassed guardrails in order to climb onto the shredders for a particular task because they stated there was no other way.”
OSHA is continuing its investigation at Industrial Recovery and Recycling, but the legal ruling has given Alex’s family an opportunity to find closure.
The family is now preparing funeral arrangements. Alex had worked at the plant for one year. He was 20 years old.