GREELEY, Colo.— The remains of a 12-year-old girl who disappeared in 1984 after performing at a Christmas holiday concert have been found by construction workers in Weld County, police said Thursday.
Greeley police Sgt. Joe Tymkovich said the remains were identified as those of Jonelle Matthews, who was last seen being dropped off at her home by a friend and a friend's father, The Greeley Tribune reported .
No one was ever arrested following her disappearance on Dec. 20, 1984. Matthews had performed with a middle school honor choir shortly before she disappeared, authorities said.
In 2018, FOX31 followed up on the story 34 years after Matthews went missing. Police said after the concert, Matthews got a ride home. She was last seen entering her residence, 320 43rd Ave. Court, around 8 p.m.
“She rode home with a friend and the friend’s father, dropped her off at her door,” Sgt. Joseph Tymkowych with the Greeley Police Department said.
But when Matthews’ parents got home at 10 p.m., the family told police they found the front door open, and her shoes by a chair and her stockings thrown over the couch.
The Tribune reported Wednesday that workers were constructing a new pipeline in rural Weld County when they discovered bones Tuesday night.
Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams said his deputies were treating the recovery of the remains as a homicide investigation.
Tymkovich did not immediately return telephone calls and it was not clear how authorities were able to identify the remains as those of the young girl so quickly.
"Your stomach just sinks," Matthews' older sister Jennifer Mogensen told FOX31 Thursday. "It has brought up a lot of emotions and it feels very surreal. We’re sad. We’re numb. But we’re also grateful for some type of closure now."
Mogensen lives outside of Colorado and her parents live outside of the country. She told FOX31 they'd all be back in the state soon for a memorial for Matthews.
"We’re appreciative of everybody’s support and we know that we’re a blessed family because of all the love and support," Mogensen said.
Shelly Lobato, a childhood friend of Matthews', still lives in the area.
“My last memory of her was I was walking home from a friend's house after school and she was walking home and we met up. And we just chatted and caught up on life and it was the last time, which is sad," said Lobato.
Lobato says she never saw Matthews again.
“Very mixed emotions, I was sad, and a little happy and relieved," Lobato said of hearing the latest news. “Her parents are at peace now. They know that she’s been found and they can lay her to rest and that’s the only happy part about it. The sad part is that she just didn’t make it out alive.”
Lobato says now, Matthews' loved ones want to know what happened.
“If we could just find out who how what why, I think that’ll be the best thing," Lobato said.
Forensic experts say the discovery could open up new leads in the search for a suspect.
"If there's clothing or other objects that might have the DNA of other people, it's possible," said Melissa Connor, a forensic investigator at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction.
"DNA is getting better every day. They're able to work with smaller and smaller pieces of DNA," she said.
Connor says determining a cause of death will be possible if there's traumatic injury, like a gunshot.
"If there was physical harm to the individual at, or about the time of death that impacted the bone, that will show," she said.
The investigation remains active. Police are asking anyone with information to give them a call.