Remains of a human body recently uncovered are now believed by authorities to be an Amish teenager who went missing while walking home from church in Pennsylvania last year.
The section where the body was discovered was “forensically processed,” and a coroner will perform an autopsy to help confirm with certainty if the remains were from the missing teen, officials reported to the outlet.
“Authorities strongly believe and are comfortable saying the remains are those of 18-year-old Linda Stoltzfoos,” said Lancaster County District Attorney Heather Adams in a Thursday press conference.
The Stoltzfoos family has been alerted by the local authorities about the newly discovered evidence, The Sun reported.
“One of our main goals from day one was to bring Linda home and to be able to say we’ve done that and to know that that family can give their daughter a proper burial is meaningful in and of itself,” Adams said.
On June 21, Stoltzfoos was last spotted walking back to her family’s farm after a church service in Bird-in-Hand, Pa. on Father’s Day before being reported missing the following day.
Thirty-five-year-old Justo Smoker of Paradise, Pa., was later taken into custody by investigators on charges of kidnapping and false imprisonment in relation to the teen’s mysterious disappearance.
Authorities claimed they have evidence that Stoltzfoos was “harmed” after being kidnaped, and Smoker was brought up on homicide charges in December.
“Though we charged Justo in December, I have no doubt that her death only became a reality for her family on the day her remains were found,” Adams added before requesting privacy for the family.
When Smoker was charged, prosecutors said that his “complete cessation of all routine activities” and the length of time that had passed suggested Stoltzfoos would not be found alive and Smoker was likely responsible.
The lead investigator on the case, East Lampeter Township police Detective Christopher Jones, produced testimony from multiple Amish women who had claimed that they saw a man matching Smoker’s description allegedly stalking them the day before Stoltzfoos vanished.
Investigators obtained cell phone records from Smoker, as well as surveillance footage, that put him and his car at the likely scene of the abduction before he is said to have driven to the heavily wooded Welsh Mountain area, according to the Sun.
Surveillance video procured by the police, which was enhanced by FBI technicians, “depicts the abduction” of Stoltzfoos in a red sedan as she walked along her normal path back to her farmhouse, according to prosecutors.
“That video shows a red Kia Rio involved in the abduction,” prosecutors stated.
He was said to have been traveling to the 3100 block of Harvest Drive, where police discovered a buried bra and stockings they say belonged to the missing teen. The clothing was found behind a business where a car, similar to Smoker’s Kia sedan, was identified by a witness who took a picture of the vehicle. Police later confirmed through the car’s registration that it in fact belonged to Smoker.
Authorities charged Smoker with kidnapping after interviewing him twice. The first time police spoke with him, he denied ever being in the area or recognizing any pictures of Stoltzfoos. When cops revealed a picture of the suspect’s car at the business where the missing teen’s belongings were discovered, Smoker admitted that the car appeared to be his, according to police.
Police searched Smoker’s home, car, and a storage unit registered to Smoker for evidence related to the case.
DNA that was “attributable to Smoker” was detected on one of the stockings, Lancaster County District Attorney Heather Adams reported.
Police say along with Stoltzfoos’s belongings they discovered zip ties when searching the property.
Stoltzfoos was last spotted wearing a “tan dress, white apron and white cape.”
After a lengthy search that has clocked over 15,000 hours, according to officials, Adams stated, “there is simply no room for criticism of law enforcement in this case.”
The coroner says it could possibly take several weeks to confirm with forensic certainty if the newly unearthed remains belonged to Stoltzfoos, but Adams said they match a female about 18 years old, and were discovered along with a dress, bonnet and shoes very similar to ones worn by Stoltzfoos. In the meantime, Smoker has remained incarcerated at Lancaster County Prison while awaiting trial.