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Who killed Marisha Cheong? 11 years later, there are still calls for justice

Who killed Marisha Cheong?
Who killed Marisha Cheong? 09:49

NEW YORK - Eleven years ago, a young woman went missing just before Christmas

Marisha Cheong, 24, was gone, seemingly without a trace - until her body was found months later

It was a case that dominated local news headlines at the time. 

Cheong's family and friends thought justice would be swift, but they're still waiting for answers.

Marisha Cheong's disappearance 

Cheong vanished from her home in Jamaica, Queens in 2012. She was last seen on security camera footage being led away by a woman. Two months later, her remains were found on a Queens beach. 

Police had their sights zeroed in on potential suspects right away, but more than a decade later, there have been no arrests. 

"I'm still waiting for her. For that call, that knock on the door. 'No, Mommy, I'm here,'" Cheong's mother Farida Ali said through tears. 

Grainy surveillance video shows Marisha Cheong being led out of her boyfriend's house by another woman. The two are difficult to spot, but are in the upper right corner of the image.  NYPD

The last known images of Marisha Cheong alive were captured on a surveillance camera from across the street

"It's very grainy, but it does show a female pulling Marisha out of the home," Queens DA Melinda Katz said. "What it does show is that she didn't go willingly." 

"She was born in Guyana. She was so beautiful. She was so big. She was nine pounds, nine and a half pounds," Ali said. 

She was the oldest of four children. 

"She had that motherly instinct in her. She would take care of them," Ali said. 

Farida Ali holds up a photo of her daughter Marisha Cheong.  CBS2

"She was so fun. She would take us everywhere," sister Isabella Rahmaan said. "I really loved her." 

The family lived in Queens, and eventually moved to Valley Stream. They say she loved hanging out with her friends, and had re-enrolled in business classes at Long Island University's Brooklyn campus. 

Cheong was living with her boyfriend of five years Latchman Balkaran, also known as L.J., at his family's home on 145th Street in Jamaica. It's the same home seen on the surveillance video from Dec. 19, 2012. 

Ali said the last time she saw her daughter, the two had gone shopping for Christmas and birthday presents. 

"She's supposed to go to school and I didn't hear anything from her," Ali said. 

That was unusual, since they spoke every day. Even more unusual was a text message Ali received from Cheong's number that read "mom am fine . I just need Little time to think . Am good."

"West Indian kids, they call you 'Mommy.' Yeah, she don't say 'Mom,'" Ali said. "I said, 'This is not Marisha.'" 

Marisha Cheong's boyfriend L.J. Balkaran

When she didn't show up for her brother's birthday and wouldn't answer her siblings' FaceTime request, Ali knew something was wrong and filed a missing person's report. 

CBS New York's Tony Aiello spoke with Balkaran back then, who told him he was supposed to pick her up at a Forest Hills subway stop on Dec. 19, 2012, but that she never showed. 

"We had an argument, text argument, that day. But it was, you know, I don't know. I don't know what happened," Balkaran said in January of 2013. 

"Did you have anything to do with her disappearance?" Aiello asked. 

"Oh no. No. No. Just now, just finding her, that's all we care about," Balkaran said. 

Ali said Balkaran contacted her numerous times to say Cheong had reached out to him. 

"He keeps calling, telling me 'Oh she's here, she's there.' You know, different, different things he keeps telling me. You know, it doesn't add up," Ali said. 

She said she went and searched all of those places, including hotels. 

"What was your gut telling you, as a mother?" CBS New York's Alice Gainer asked. 

"No. That's not true," Ali said. "He's trying to say that she went somewhere with a boy. You know, he keep making up all these excuses. And that was the last. I call him up and say, why are you doing this? Why you telling the police all these lies? So I think that was the last time I talked to him."

Ali said Balkaran's reaction to her disappearance also didn't seem right. 

"He didn't show no emotion that he had missed her, he wanted to know where she is," Ali said. 

Marisha Cheong's body found 

Nearly two months later, on Feb. 16, 2013, Cheong's remains were found washed ashore near Breezy Point. 

"Her hands were bound behind her body. Her legs were also bound. She had a broken neck, and she had bones that were broken in her arms," Katz said. "She was found in a grey sweatshirt, Aeropostale sweatshirt. She had pajamas on her bottom. She had one Ugg boot on. She had headphones in her hair."

Ali was shown a photo of Cheong's earrings to identify. 

"When they tell me that they find her body, it's like, you're hearing what they're saying, but it's not registering," Ali said. 

Balkaran was asked not to attend her funeral, and Ali said he didn't protest. 

"If you love somebody so much, you would fight to be there, right? No matter what, you would want to be there to see the last of her," Ali said. 

Eleven years later, there have still been no arrests. 

"The problem with this case is that she was in the water for so long that her body was decomposed, the lungs. We couldn't tell whether she drowned or whether she was put into the water already passed away," Katz said. 

Back in 2013, CBS New York learned police were focused on a young, female acquaintance of Balkaran - possibly the female seen on the security camera footage

"Have their been any recent conversations with that person?" Gainer asked. 

"We won't go into the ongoing investigation. There was a question back then as to whether or not that grainy video was the woman that you are talking about. So we're continuing to work on that video," Katz said. 

"Has her then-boyfriend been ruled out?" Gainer asked. 

"So we don't really talk about the open investigation of who's been ruled out and who hasn't been ruled out. I will tell you that because it's been so many years, we can't say that anyone's ruled out," Katz said. 

Gainer repeatedly tried to ask Balkaran for an interview. 

The Queens DA's cold case unit is hoping someone will come forward with information they've held onto. 

"As people get older, as they, you know, start remembering different things, as they feel maybe that their conscience needs to tell someone something," Katz said. 

Marisha Cheong's family still wants answers

Isabella Rahmaan shows Alice Gainer photos of her sister Marisha Cheong.  CBS2

"My mom and her have a birthday one day apart," Rahmaan, 20, said. 

Cheong's younger sister was just 9 the last time she saw her. 

"She wasn't there for my graduation. She wasn't there for my prom. Those are all things I was so excited for her to, you know. She's my older sister, so she's gonna do my makeup, she's gonna do my hair, she's gonna tell me about her experience too. It's like I lost all that," Rahmaan said.

Also gone forever? Their sense of security. 

"I'm like my mom now. I'm very cautious about the people I meet, the people I talk to. I tell her every day I've reached the school. I call every day. I tell her I got home. You know I tell her all the friends I'm going out with, just to reassure her," Rahmaan said. 

There are photos of Cheong displayed all over their home, and three shelves full of mementos from her life. 

"If I give it away, again I'm gonna lose her. I know she's not there, but I can't really explain it," Ali said. 

She went through a mother's worst nightmare, and she's waited a long time for answers. 

"Why did this happen to her? She didn't deserve this. And then they throw her away like if she doesn't have nobody, like as if she was garbage," Ali said. 

But Cheong has many people who love her, and want to see her killer - or killers - brought to justice. 

There's a $3,500 reward in the case. Anyone with any information is asked to call the Queen's District Attorney at (718) 286-6300 or the NYPD's Crime Stoppers hotline at 1-800-577-TIPS (8477), or for Spanish, 1-888-57-PISTA (74782). You can also submit a tip via their website or via DM on Twitter, @NYPDTips. All calls are kept confidential.  

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