The man found dead in the South Fork River on Sunday was murdered.
Catawba County Sheriff Coy Reid said 23-year-old Absalon Gomez was shot to death before his body was located earlier this week in the river near Maiden.
Gomez's family reported him missing Dec. 7 and had no contact with him since that date. Reid said it's "very possible" that Gomez has been dead since December.
The sheriff's office isn't releasing how many times Gomez was shot, and there are no suspects in the case. Reid said investigators have a few leads in the case that indicate the shooting was drug-related.
Gomez lived on River Rock Lane in Newton, which is about a mile from where his body was found. Two canoers were traveling along the river Sunday when they saw Gomez's body and called 9-1-1.
Reid said the cold water and body decomposition made it difficult for investigators to determine how long Gomez was dead. Deputies identified Gomez on Monday, but declined to release the man's name until dental records confirmed the identity.
An investigation into the incident is ongoing.
Gomez spent time in Catawba County jail in 2007 for traffic offenses, Reid said.
Anyone with information about Gomez's death or the incidents leading to his murder is asked to call the Catawba County Sheriff's Office at (828) 464-5241.