KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Bones found in a rural area in the spring are those of a 17-year-old northwest Missouri girl, family members and authorities said Wednesday, bringing them closer to solving a 10-year mystery that began when the teen walked out of her high school and disappeared.
Police in Belton, where Kara Kopetsky lived and was last seen, said in a statement that the FBI confirmed the remains — one of two sets of human bones discovered in April — were identified through DNA testing as those of Kopetsky. The teen had been missing since leaving Belton High School on May 4, 2007. Belton is about 20 miles (32 kilometers) south of Kansas City.
Her skull was found in a wooded area near Belton, the day after a mushroom hunter discovered the remains of 21-year-old Jessica Runions, of Raymore, Missouri. Runions was last seen in September 2016, and her death is being investigated as a homicide.
Kopetsky's mother, Rhonda Beckford, said Wednesday that relatives had assumed the remains were Kara's since the day they were found.
"We always felt when they found one, they would find both," Beckford said, referring to her daughter and Runions. "So of course we felt from the very beginning that the other set of remains were Kara."
She said her family is headed into "a new phase." She described it as one of "resolution" rather than "closure."
"We've gotten Kara identified and now we can have a funeral and put her to rest, the way it always should have been, and move toward prosecution," she said.
Runions and Kopetsky have both been linked to 27-year-old Kylr Yust, who was seen leaving a gathering with Runions on Sept. 8, 2016. He was charged with burning Runions' car, which was found in the days after she disappeared. Court records indicate Kopetsky filed a protection order against Yust in April 2007. Yust has not been charged in either disappearance.
Beckford said she prefers to talk about her daughter, not Yust.
"Kara was 17 when we lost her and she was robbed of her life and she deserves justice," she said. "It's up to us now to make sure she gets that justice."