LIBERTY, Mo. (AP) — Decomposed remains found in a Missouri park have been positively identified as those of a Chinese woman who had been missing from Columbia, Missouri, since 2019, authorities said Tuesday.
Columbia Mayor Brian Treece said forensic experts used dental records to identify Mengqi Ji's remains, which were found by a hunter on March 25 at Rock Bridge Memorial State Park about 5 miles (8.05 kilometers) south of Columbia.
“I want to express to Mengqi Ji’s family members, and to their community of supporters, that we support you and your wish for justice,” Treece said.
Investigators are still trying to determine how Ji died, Assistant Chief Jeremiah Hunter said.
It's also unclear how long her body had been at the site but it had been there “for some time,” Police Chief Geoff Jones said.
Current evidence does not indicate other suspects but Jones said investigators were “keeping an open mind” and would go where the evidence took them.
Ji’s husband, Joseph Elledge, was charged in February 2020 with first-degree murder in her death. He has pleaded not guilty to the murder charge. He also pleaded not guilty to child endangerment and domestic abuse charges. The couple has a 2-year-old daughter.
Prosecutors have speculated that Elledge strangled his wife to avoid a costly divorce and to stop her from fleeing to China with their daughter.
Boone County Prosecutor Dan Knight has said little since the remains were found but Jones said Knight is as confident as he was a year ago that Ji’s husband is responsible for her death.
“I think we're closer to the truth than we've ever been, and I hope we can get there for her family," Jones said.
Authorities said when the remains were found that they believed they were Ji's. Hunter said authorities were notified of the positive identification late Friday afternoon but waited to release details until they could talk to Ji's family early Tuesday.
The family's attorney, Amy Salladay, said in a statement Tuesday that they took comfort in having closure with respect to what happened to their daughter. And they are grateful to the hunter who found the body, she said.
She said domestic violence incidents and anti-Asian harassment and violence have been underreported because of the coronavirus pandemic and she urged Columbia to begin discussing the intersection between domestic violence and racism.
“Xenophobia isn’t new but this is a pivotal moment where Columbia should choose to take specific, measurable actions to make sure everyone is safe.” she said.
During the news conference, Jones thanked those who came forward in Ji's case and urged them to continue offering information in other cases of violent crime.