Remains are 2nd missing woman linked to Missouri man, officials say

Kara Kopetsky, left, and Jessica Runions, right

KCTV

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Bones found in a rural area 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 Cass County 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 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.

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. He has pleaded not guilty.

 KCTV5

Yust also has been questioned in the disappearance of Kopetsky, his ex-girlfriend. Yust has not been charged in either case.

Court records indicate Kopetsky filed a protection order against Yust in April 2007 alleging that he kidnapped and restrained her, choked her and threatened to cut her throat during their nine-month relationship. 

"I'm unsure what he will do next, because the abuse has gotten worse over time," the application for the court intervention read, alleging Yust stalked Kopetsky and inflicted emotional and physical abuse. A hearing was scheduled for May 10, 2007 but Kopetsky went missing six days before the hearing.

Kopetsky's family has maintained they believe Yust is responsible for their daughter's disappearance, reports CBS affiliate KCTV. Kopetsky's mother, Rhonda Beckford, has cast her daughter's relationship with Yust as "volatile," remembering him as manipulative and abusive.  

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 got her back," Beckford told CBS affiliate KCTV. "He doesn't have that to hold over our heads anymore. We got her back."

Beckford says the family has wanted from the beginning to find her daughter's remains so she can be laid to rest.

"It's a glorious day, Kara's officially back home," her father Jim Beckford told the station Wednesday. "She will be able to be honored and remembered, even though she's not here with us physically, but she'll be loved forever."

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."