COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)
Remains found last month at Rock Bridge Memorial State Park are those of a Columbia woman last seen in October 2019.
Mayor Brian Treece announced the identification through dental records with the Columbia Police Department during an afternoon news conference at City Hall. The decomposed remains were found at Rock Bridge on March 25. Forensic experts visited Columbia last week to identify the remains.
Police said investigators also found items near the remains that appeared to belong to Ji, including bank, credit card documents and a driver's license.
CPD Chief Geoff Jones thanked the hiker for finding the remains and for coming forward with the discovery during the news conference. Assistant Chief Jeremiah Hunter said how Ji died has not been determined.
Hunter said police got word of the identification of the remains Friday but wanted to speak to the family before releasing the information publicly. Police spoke with Ji's family this morning, he said.
Watch a replay of the news conference in the player below.
Jones said it's not clear how long Ji's body was at the state park. Police are still investigating to find out the cause of death, he said.
Ji’s husband Joseph Elledge reported her missing Oct. 10, 2019. Elledge told police he last saw her on Oct. 8, 2019. Prosecutors later charged Elledge with first-degree murder. Elledge's trial is set for November.
Investigators initially focused their search on the Lamine River in Cooper County. Police said they had evidence that repeatedly suggested Ji’s body may have been in the river near the Route 41 Bridge. An initial probable cause statement in the case said cellphone data showed that Elledge drove to the Boonville area on Oct. 9, 2019. The data showed the phone was in the area of the Lamine River for about 45 minutes.
Police held a news conference hours after the hiker found the remains. During that news conference, police said law enforcement did search Rock Bridge State Park but did not search the area where the body was found.
"We used a lot of resources and volunteers to make this happen and will forever appreciate their dedication to this case," Police Chief Geoff Jones said. "The time, energy and expertise that was provided were all necessary to bring this search to an end as well as bring the necessary closure to Mengqi Ji’s loved ones."
Police are waiting on results from a forensic anthropologist, hoping the expert will be able to identify a cause of death.
"I don't know what we'll find, I don't know where it will take us, and we want to be open minded in our investigation and let that evidence take us to the truth," Jones said. "I think we are closer to the truth than we have ever been and i hope that we can get there for her family."
Police could not comment on whether or not there is evidence to suggest Elledge was at Rock Bridge State Park. Hunter said there are no new suspects as of now, but they are continuing to follow the case where it goes.
Jones said the prosecutor has been notified and is grateful for the new developments in the case.
"This continues to develop more investigative leads, more information that any prosecutor can have is beneficial, and I think he is excited by that to see where this investigation will continue to lead," Jones said.