MISSION, Kan. (AP) — Relatives of a missing Chinese woman whose remains are believed to be have been found in a Missouri park said the discovery brings closure and the chance to have a funeral as they await the murder trial of the woman’s husband.
Amy Salladay, an attorney for Mengqi Ji’s family, said Friday in a statement that the family is still processing the news that a driver’s license and some credit cards with Ji’s name on them were found Thursday, along with the remains, in a remote area of Rock Bridge State Park in Boone County. The remains have preliminarily been identified as Ji’s, but DNA testing is planned to provide confirmation.
“As parents of a missing child they always hoped for their daughter’s return and for this to be a bad dream,” Salladay said. “At the same time they have wanted answers about what happened to Mengqi and this information now gives them some closure and a body so that a funeral can be planned for some time in the future.”
Ji’s husband, Joseph Elledge, who was a University of Missouri student, is jailed without bond while awaiting a Nov. 1 trial on charges of first-degree murder in her October 2019 disappearance. He has pleaded not guilty to the murder charge and to related charges of child endangerment and domestic abuse.
The couple’s daughter turned a year old the weekend before Ji went missing; they took the baby to the St. Louis Zoo to celebrate. Salladay said Ji was still breastfeeding the girl at the time.
Prosecutors have speculated that Elledge strangled his wife to avoid a costly divorce and to stop her from fleeing to China with their daughter.
Assistant Columbia Police Chief Jeremiah Hunter said parts of Rock Bridge State Park had been previously searched but not the area where the remains were found, which is about 30 feet (9.1 meters) from a road.
The discovery, if confirmed, removes one hurdle for prosecutors: proving that Ji is dead. The Boone County prosecutor didn’t immediately return a phone message seeking comment.
Elledge’s attorney, Scott Rosenblum, said he had no comment Thursday evening.
Ji’s family described her as a highly educated woman who loved her daughter. She received a master’s degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering from the University of Missouri in December 2014. She previously attended the East China University of Science and Technology in Shanghai.
“She wanted to be in the United States for the opportunities available to her and her family through education and employment,” the statement said. “She was a victim of domestic violence. She reached out for help but help did not come soon enough for her.”
A custody trial for Ji’s daughter is scheduled to take place after the criminal trial.