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Darlene Harbison's family sad but relieved after her remains found

Darlene Harbison's family sad but relieved after her remains found
Darlene Harbison's family sad but relieved after her remains found 02:56

DEC. 7 UPDATE: The medical examiner identified the remains as Darlene Harbison.

Butler, Pa. (KDKA) — For months, Darlene Harbison's family was sick with worry, wondering where she was.

Her mother, Charlotte Ruediger, said she never imagined something terrible happening to her daughter.

"Going through it felt like a living hell," Ruediger said.

Police believe Darlene Harbison's remains were found in Worthington Township, Armstrong County on Dec. 5, 2022.  (Photo: Provided)

On Sept. 11, the 59-year-old Frazer Township woman was reported missing to police. On Monday, the search for Harbison came to an end with an outcome the family was dreading.

"The search is all over," Ruediger said. "But we still don't really have Darlene."

On Nov. 25, Darlene's daughter, Jen Harbison, posted a plea on Facebook to hunters to look around while out in the woods.

Investigators said that's exactly what happened Monday morning. Officials got a call that a hunter noticed a motorcycle over a hillside along Nichola Road in Worthington Township, Armstrong County.

When reporting what was found, the hunter gave the plate number on the motorcycle. Investigators said in a release that the plate was registered to Darlene Harbison. Human remains were found near where the bike was spotted.

Darlene Harbison's brother, Robert Ruediger, went to the area where his sister was found while detectives were still at the scene. He said he watched as the motorcycle was recovered.

"I was just stunned. I was shocked when I saw the bike," Robert Ruediger said. "It was just like the detective told us, it would appear as though it was set up."

While investigating her disappearance, police suspected Darlene Harbison's boyfriend, Eric Gibbs, was somehow involved.

The family said they did too. Darlene Harbison's mom said her daughter told her that if anything were to happen to her, to "go after" Gibbs.

A week after the 59-year-old vanished, Gibbs was found dead from an apparent suicide in West Deer Township, according to investigators.

Harbison's sister, Betty Hoffman, said the news of Gibbs' death brought the family even more grief.

"At that point, we knew," Hoffman said. "He didn't tell anybody where she was and we knew the nightmare was just starting, and how were we going to find her?"

The family said finding Darlene Harbison brought them some relief, but that the bittersweet closure they're experiencing will never close the hole Darlene Harbison's death left in their hearts.

"There's really no joy. The joy is we're done searching, but now we have to put her to rest," Charlotte Ruediger said. "And spend the rest of our lives without her."

It was still unclear how Darlene Harbison died. Her remains were handed over to the medical examiner's office for formal identification.

Jen Harbison released the following statement to KDKA-TV:

"My mom was mine and my sisters' best friend. She lived for us and her grandkids; we were her world. She was caring funny adventurous. She will greatly be missed by us all and we are tremendously thankful for everything everyone has done for our family."

Anyone with information concerning this incident is asked to call the Allegheny County police tip line at 1-833-255-8477.

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