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Columbia

Police chief gives update on cost and timeline of search for Mengqi Ji

COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)

The Columbia Police Department is still searching for Mengqi Ji, a Columbia mother who has been missing since October.

The department has been working with other agencies to search the Lamine River outside of Boonville. Recently, crews built a levee in the river to get heavy equipment further in the river.

The budget to build the levee is $50,000. The City of Columbia and Boone County are splitting the cost for the project.

The non-profit group Missing Person Support Center has raised $10,000 for the search as well. Once the police department receives the money, it will be put on the city council's agenda for them to approve the department to be able to accept the funds.

Della Williams, the founder and president of the group, said in a statement in part, "The Chinese community in Columbia as well as China & other areas were very willing to help provide resources to locate Mengqi Ji and assist with other expenses involved with her disappearance."

The group raised $25,000 total, and set aside $10,000 for the levee.

"The rest of the money is being utilized for legal fees & such things related to the disappearance of Mengqi Ji," Williams said.

If approved, that dollar amount will be subtracted from the total both the city and county provide.

Columbia Police Chief Geoff Jones said the cost for the search using the levee will not reach $50,000.

"We tried to budget for the worst case which would have included higher water levels, and since the water levels were lower and we were able to project that we were able to use less material in the river," Jones said.

The money from the city is coming from funds that were approved in the budget to buy new body-worn cameras the department did not plan on buying.

Jones said the main expenses for the project have been rock for the levee, hotel rooms for divers from other parts of the state and feeding the team members working on the search.

He said the department has worked to save money by doing things like having salaried employees cook meals, getting lower cost hotel rooms, and pulling resources together from the city.

As of May 18, the preliminary cost of the search has been $24,697.64.

The search for Ji has been suspended because of weather, but crews are getting ready to begin the second phase where they will start taking rock back out of the river.

"Now we're at a point where we made it to the pier on the bridge where we wanted to, and then we're going to start drawing back," Jones said. "So we're going to excavate that rock out and part of the river bottom as we back out, and we hope to find her as we do that excavation."

Jones said even though $50,000 is a lot of money, he believes the search could save money in the long run.

"If we believe she's in the river and we have the ability to go into the river and find her in short order then it would be less expensive in the long run than incurring all of this investigative expense over months or years as we try to look for her," Jones said. "I thought it was not just appropriate in the way that we're being responsible with money, but it's also the appropriate investigative tool to use at this time."

Jones said the funding for searches for missing persons is a case-by-case basis. He referenced the department's search at the city landfill for Megan Shultz last year.

"I would equate this to knowing that Megan Shultz, or having a strong suspicion that Megan Shultz was in the landfill. We had a responsibility to go look for Megan, and in that case we had success," Jones said. "We have a very strong suspicion based on articulable evidence that this is where Mengqi is, and we have to pursue it the same way that we did Megan."

The search for Ji has been temporarily suspended because of inclement weather, and because several sanitation workers being in quarantine after being exposed to COVID-19 has reduced the workforce. Utility workers have helped with the search for Ji by operating equipment and trucks.

Investigators will go back out to the river once there is enough personnel for the core functions of the city to go uninterrupted.

Jones said one they are back at the river, he hopes the next phase of the search will be complete in three or four days, or less.

Boone / Coronavirus / Crime / Elledge case / Missing Person / Money / Money / News / Top Stories / Top Stories

Sydney Olsen

Sydney Olsen reports in the evenings during the week and on the weekend.

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