HARVEY, Ill. (CBS) — The search for a woman who disappeared on a trail in the Midlothian Meadows Forest Preserve in the south suburbs has come to a heartbreaking end for her family.
As CBS 2’s Jermont Terry reported, it was the news the family of Vanessa Ceja did not want to hear. Two days after she vanished on the Cook County Forest Preserve trail, word came late Wednesday night that a body found in the afternoon belongs to Ceja.
The case remained a death investigation Wednesday night rather than a homicide investigation, but that could change.
On Wednesday night, a large crowd gathered in Harvey to pray for Ceja’s family.
“My heart is right now really sad. We’re sad,” said family friend Ericka Gutierrez.
Candles held by the mourners represented the hope many had just a few hours before the baseball diamond where the vigil was held filled up. Family and friends first stood along Pulaski Road, and they then rushed to the Midlothian Meadows Forest Preserve – where investigators found a woman in the woods.
It was the same trail on which Ceja disappeared Monday while walking with her mother.
“Wow, I didn’t even know that they did find a body,” Gutierrez said.
Late Wednesday night after the crowd reflected, the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office identified the body to be that of the 22-year-old.
How she died is not being released. But the investigation shows Ceja left her mother while on the jogging trail to head back to her car – and when her mother finished jogging, Ceja was nowhere to be found.
Her mother called police.
“As a mother, I have girls myself, so I can’t imagine what she’s going through. I’m sure she’s just devastated,” Gutierrez said. “This is hard. This is really hard for a mother just to take in.”
Investigators late Wednesday continued to look into what happened, including if someone caused Ceja’s death along the popular trails.
“Whatever information you may have – if you just saw Vanessa in a split second – say something to someone about it,” said Harvey Mayor Christopher Clark.
Such information might be key in solving the death investigation, as Ceja’s family and community deal with the sudden loss.
“It just shows that, you know, we’re united, you know -we’re all a family and we’re here to support each other,” Gutierrez said.
Originally, investigators said they searched on Monday in the forest preserve by air and with canines, but Ceja’s body was not found until two days later.
The Cook County Sheriff’s police, which is handling the investigation, said it got ping of Ceja’s cellphone in nearby Oak Forest, but could not with certainty if she was at the apartment complex where the ping originated.
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