COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)
One year after Mengqi Ji went missing police continue the search for her.
Columbia police announced on Wednesday they would begin searching the Lamine River for Ji once again while removing part of the levee they built because the water level was so low.
"All the facts and the evidence led us to this location of interest and with the human detection K9's, multiple dogs, multiple hits, led up to believe that this was the correct location and still is to recover evidence," said Columbia Police Department Assistant Police Chief Jeremiah Hunter.
Police began asking for the public's assistance in finding the missing 28-year-old mother on Oct. 11, 2019. Ji went missing on Oct. 8 and her husband, Joseph Elledge, reported her missing on Oct. 10.
Shortly after, Elledge was arrested and booked into the Boone County Jail on child endangerment charges.
On Nov. 6, 2019, during a bond reduction hearing, Boone County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Knight named Elledge as the primary suspect in Ji's disappearance for the first time, claiming that Elledge had killed his wife, although he has pleaded not guilty.
Police and a dive team began searching the Lamine River at the De Bourgmont access point at the beginning of December, which would end up taking days of work and thousands of dollars.
One year after her disappearance, the attorney for Ji's family, Amy Salladay, sent a statement on the family's behalf about the search and investigation.
"We are appreciative of the efforts made by the Columbia Police Department over the past year but we are disappointed that search efforts have stalled and that the investigation does not seem to be moving forward by collaborating with other law enforcement agencies who could help. This is not a missing persons case but the murder of our only child who herself was also a mother. We will never give up looking for Mengqi. We continue to hope for answers so that she can have a proper burial and we can have a funeral. We are thankful for the hard work and compassion shown by Boone County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Knight and his office in handling this matter. "Amy Sallady
The search for Ji has also been unusual in that police worked with so many other agencies or groups.
"Fortunately we had a lot of volunteers and a lot of people willing to help up, different organizations chipping in," Hunter said.
He said the department continues to learn from each investigation it does, including large-scale operations such as digging in the city landfill to find the remains of Megan Shultz.
"Can't be an expert in every field but ever investigation you pick up more techniques," Hunter said.
"The landfill investigation, you know, just digging those holes and trying to identify a time frame in trash kind of helped us at the river. You know, where we need to put specific resources and what resources we need to look for, and we had some of those right here in the city, other departments within the city that we worked with on the landfill investigation."
The department using city utility crews built a levee in the river to move heavy machinery out to where investigators believe Ji's remains were.
To date, the police department has spent $28,478.78 on the levee project, around half of the $50,000 budget.
The Missing Person Support Center has raised $10,000 for the search that will be subtracted from the total cost to the department. The Boone County Commission also agreed to reimburse half of the half of all the final expenses once the project was done.
Almost all of the budget, $24,597.83 has been spent on materials such as rock and an excavator.
The cost has not risen much from May when several sanitation workers were quarantined because of exposure to COVID-19 reduced the workforce.
Hunter said despite the cost and energy that has gone into the search for Ji, it is the police department's responsibility to see it through all the way.
"Any homicide you have to follow the evidence and follow the trail to its conclusion and, you know, as many resources as you can in order to stop it from happening again," he said.
The search has not come without its share of barriers, especially as crews were at the mercy of Mother Nature.
"Rising and lowering of the river. The river flowing forwards, backwards. The constant environmental change of the river," Hunter said.
At one point in the search, divers were only able to be in the water for a few minutes because it was so cold. Visibility in the water was also extremely low.
Even after the murder case for Ji goes to trial, no matter the outcome, Hunter says Columbia police will continue their search for answers.
Elledge's attorney, Scott Rosenblum, said Elledge is ready to clear his name in court, but Hunter said he believes police have gathered enough evidence for a jury to find Elledge guilty of the murder.