Ten years after Kara Kopetsky walked out of Belton High School and was never heard from again, her remains have been identified.
DNA tests have confirmed that the second set of human bones found in early April in Cass County belonged to Kopetsky, the high school junior whose 2007 disappearance captured — and has kept — the community’s attention.
Police officials from Belton and Cass County went to the home of Kopetsky's family Wednesday afternoon to tell them what the parents have said they already knew in their hearts.
“I’m finally relieved to have confirmation,” Rhonda Beckford, Kopetsky’s mother, told The Star on Wednesday afternoon. “We’ve known for a long time that Kara was gone, and we felt when they found the other remains that the other set was Kara.
“It’s been a long 10 years, and this is the start of hopefully moving toward a prosecution.”
After the first set of remains were identified in April as belonging to Jessica Runions, 21, of Raymore, the second set was sent for additional DNA testing. The Jackson County Medical Examiner’s office confirmed the results on Wednesday, according to a news release from the Cass County sheriff’s office.
“I have received both the mitochondrial DNA and nuclear DNA reports from the FBI for the unidentified skeleton recovered in Cass County,” Diane C. Peterson, Jackson County’s chief medical examiner, said in the release. “Both reports indicate the remains are that of Kara Elise Kopetsky.”
Belton police said in a news release that officials would have no further comment and that inquiries should be directed to the Cass County prosecutor. The prosecutor did not respond to a call and text message for comment.
A mushroom hunter found human bones in a wooded area south of Belton on April 3. Authorities then scoured the area near a quarry and found more remains, including a second skull.
Police notified Kopetsky’s family, as well as the family of Runions, to tell them about the discovery. Soon after, Runions’ family learned that one set of remains belonged to their daughter.
Runions was last seen Sept. 8 leaving a gathering with Kylr Yust, an estranged boyfriend of Kopetsky’s at the time of her disappearance. Authorities soon found Runions' burned vehicle in a wooded area in south Kansas City and charged Yust with burning it.
His trial on that charge has been scheduled for October. Soon after Runions’ disappearance, authorities learned of a possible connection to Kopetsky’s case.
After being told about the identification Wednesday, Beckford reached out to Jamie Runions, Jessica’s mother.
“We’re in this together,” Beckford said. “We’re a team.”
Linda Runions, Jessica’s grandmother, said Wednesday evening that they were relieved to hear that Kopetsky’s remains had been identified.
“They got her back, and I know they waited a long time,” Linda Runions said. “The waiting is excruciating.”
In the years since Kopetsky disappeared, her family has kept her name in the public. They’ve held walks and community events. Family and friends have attended court hearings for Yust on various unrelated charges. And they have been there when he appeared before a judge on the charge of burning Jessica Runions’ car.
The Beckfords have also spoken with various media outlets during the past decade and talked about how they wouldn’t give up until their daughter was found.
Kopetsky’s mother told The Star in April that she thought the second set of remains were her daughter’s. But she would have to wait longer for tests to prove it.
“That is what we pray for every day,” Beckford said then. “To get resolution to this, find Kara’s remains and put her to rest.”
The teen had called home on May 4, 2007, once she got to school and told her mom she’d forgotten a textbook. Rhonda Beckford soon dropped it off at the front desk, and her daughter picked it up.
Surveillance video from Belton High School showed Kopetsky walking down the hall at 10:30 a.m. Another video, which police would release a month after she vanished, showed her leaving the school soon after.
Her parents immediately suspected Yust, whom Kopetsky had filed for a protection order against just 10 days before she disappeared.
On Wednesday, Beckford didn’t want to discuss Yust.
“I would like Kara to get the attention,” she said. “Not him.”
She also wants her daughter’s remains so she can be buried in a place where the family can visit.
“Now we can have a funeral and put her to rest the way it always should have been,” she told the media Wednesday evening.
Jim Beckford, Kara’s stepfather, said Wednesday’s news lifted a heaviness that has hovered over them for a decade.
“Kara is finally home,” he said. “Even though she isn’t here physically, she will be loved forever.”
The family will now focus on the investigation.
“For this whole 10 years, I’ve been determined — and this isn’t over yet,” Rhonda Beckford said. “I’m still determined to get justice for my daughter.
“... Kara was 17 when we lost her and she was robbed of her life. She deserves justice.”