LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Human remainswere identified as those of a teenager who was last seen in the area before disappearing 2½ years ago, authorities said Wednesday.
Little Rock Police spokesman Officer Steve Moore said cold case investigators were following up on Ebby Steppach's disappearance Tuesday when they found the skeletal remains in an underground drainage pipe at Chalamont Park. The pipe opens near where police found the 18-year-old's car days after she was reported missing in October 2015.
The Arkansas State Crime Lab concluded Wednesday afternoon that the remains were Steppach's.
Moore said authorities last searched the park in November 2016 but were following up this week using "gut instinct."
"We've never given up on this," he said of the disappearance, which is still considered a missing-person case.
Steppach's mother, Laurie Jernigan, previously said her daughter wanted to live on her own and had moved in with her brother, Trevor, who talked to her on the phone the day before her disappearance. Trevor told police she sounded panicked on the phone and "like she was high on drugs." She insisted she was in her car but couldn't say where she was or with whom before she hung up, her brother said.
Police, volunteers and officials from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children searched the park several times since Steppach went missing.
Moore said police notified Steppach's family about the discovery.
"Yesterday, God answered the family's prayers to find Ebby," a family representative said in a statement posted Wednesday on Facebook. The statement said the family is "thankful for the life they got to share with her and ask for continued support and prayers as they work through this difficult time."
What the family calls a "celebration" of Steppach's life has been scheduled for Saturday afternoon at Little Rock Christian Academy.
In an emotional Facebook post, Steppach's mother Laurie Jernigan said she has "wondered a long time what it will be like, a phone call, the middle of the night, a knock on the door?"
"The screams, I couldn't get them out hard or long enough, I can't breathe, I can't breathe, I can't stand up, I'm hitting and hitting someone, just keep screaming Laurie, eventually it will all come out of you....I want to go home and cover my ears and my heart. I don't want to hurt anymore. That's what it looks like when you're told your deceased daughter's been found."