GREELEY, Colo. — The human remains found at an oil and gas site in Greeley have been identified as a young girl who went missing from the area more than 34 years ago.
Around 4:50 p.m. on Tuesday, construction crews were excavating an area in rural Weld County for a pipe line when they found bones and called the Weld County Sheriff's Office. The remains were identified as belonging to a human, according to the Greeley Police Department.
Investigators with the Weld County Sheriff's Office, the Weld County Coroner's Office and the Greeley Police Department responded to the scene and began to investigate.
After an examination, the remains were identified as those of Jonelle Matthews, who went missing from the Greeley area on Dec. 20, 1984, according to Greeley police.
There have not been any arrests in connection to her disappearance or death. Anybody with information on this case is encouraged to call Greeley police at 970-351-5100 or Detective Cash 970-350-9601.
At a short news conference Thursday afternoon, a police spokesperson thanked their partners in the investigation and said the case remained active.
Jonelle's older sister, Jennifer Mogensen, spoke with Denver7 over Facetime Thursday, saying her family is still coming to terms with the news.
"Just processing, it’s surreal, it’s sad, but at the same time we’re grateful for some closure and it brings up other questions as well," Mogensen said.
The family held a funeral service for Jonelle 10 years after she disappeared, however Mogensen says there has always been a bit of uncertainty.
"Because there was never a body found or anything you just don’t know," she said. "It was always like a cold case, and sometimes I would go to Walmart and I would see the age progression photos and that would startle (me) a little bit."
She described Jonelle as opinionated, independent and athletic, saying the two of them didn't always get along but that she still misses her sister to this day.
"There’s times in my life when I wish she was here, like weddings or the birth of my son, and when you see her friends in the stage of life that they are in now you just wonder what it would’ve been like," Mogensen said.
Mogensen said she received a call from detectives on Wednesday saying the remains might belong to her sister but that she found out from the news and from friends that Jonelle had been positively identified. She was also surprised with how her sister's remains were found.
"It’s like a needle in a haystack. I would say that it happened for a reason and that it was come across," she said.
Mogensen says her mother, Gloria, is feeling a little numb right now and that the family is now in the process of working out final arrangements. However, they are thankful that the Greeley Police Department continued to pursue the case over the years.
"I think there’s a case in every police man or police woman’s life that drives them and that was this for (Detective) Rod Cash," she said.
The family is planning on traveling out to Greeley sometime next week to claim the remains.
The Greeley Police Department brought this case back into the spotlight in December, which marked the 34th anniversary of Matthews's disappearance. Police released new photos and videos from the night of the young girl's disappearance in hopes it would bring them to new leads amid significant advances in forensic and scientific testing methods.
Matthews was last seen going into her home after 8 p.m. on Dec. 20, 1984 after a friend and the friend's father dropped her off after a choir performance.
After she was reported missing, the community rallied together to search for her.
She lived with her parents and then-16-year-old sister on 43rd Avenue Court in Greeley and she attended Franklin Middle School.
In the past few years, investigators have sorted through all the evidence and conducted new and repeat interviews. Based on this renewed investigation, authorities said they believe people in the community may have information that they had not yet shared with police.
“We also have reason to believe that an individual with direct knowledge of Jonelle’s disappearance may have resided in the community and/or surrounding area at the time and may still be residing within the community and/or surrounding area to this day,” the department’s press release from December read. “We also believe this individual likely knew Jonelle and had previously interacted with her.”
Anybody with information on this case can call Greeley police at 970-351-5100.