UPDATE: The skull and bones discovered in a Malibu Canyon ravine earlier this week were identified Thursday as the remains of Mitrice Richardson, 24, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said. Richardson disappeared near the area in September after being released from the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff's Station.
The skeletal remains were discovered as state rangers searched an abandoned marijuana farm Monday afternoon in the Monte Nido area.
Sheriff Lee Baca made the announcement during a press conference Thursday morning.
"Life is fragile,'' Baca said. ''The circumstances of this case are
tragic. I am mindful of the fact that a mother and father are in deep grieving
at this moment, and I will do all I can to assist them in this regard.''
Baca hugged Mitrice Richardson's father, Michael Richardson, who was at the press conference.
The cause of death was being "deferred" and there are no "obvious" signs of foul play, said Ed Winter, assistant chief coroner for L.A. County.
Baca added that further investigation was needed to determine Mitrice Richardson's cause of death.
"'I don't believe the remains are capable of of telling us a story that
would lead to that possibility, and I would ask that the coroner's office
continually work in that regard to see if there was any foul play,'' he said.
Until Wednesday, Richardson's parents were hopeful that their daughter was still alive.
"We're going to remain hopeful, prayerful and steadfast," father Michael Richardson said Wednesday morning on radio station KJLH-FM.
Richardson was arrested at Geoffrey's restaurant on Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu on Sept. 16 after being unable to pay her $89 dinner bill.
She was released from the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff's Station shortly after midnight, without her car, which had been impounded, or a cell phone or purse. People reported seeing her three times in the canyon area early that morning, but after that, she vanished.
Reports of Richardson sightings in Las Vegas in June did not yield anything conclusive.
Her family said Richardson, a former beauty pageant contestant and an honors graduate in psychology from Cal State Fullerton, suffered from mental health issues and should have been kept at the sheriff's station until a relative arrived to pick her up.
The family has sued the county and the sheriff's department over the matter.
But Baca defends the course of action his deputies took in releasing Richardson.
"The deputies acted properly,'' Baca said. ''But the point is that
'properly' doesn't necessarily mean that we didn't do something, or could have
done something more.
A campaign called "Bring Mitrice Home" had been circulating the Web a few months after she disappeared.
After the discovery of the skeletal remains, Michael Richardson was quoted on that website saying: "Of course this is an uncomfortable piece of information. However, I will remain positive. Although I don't want to believe these remains belong to Mitrice, they in fact belong to someone. No matter the outcome of these findings, they will bring closure to someone's family. I will continue to pray..We have come too far to start falling apart now."
When news trickled out that bones had been discovered, two families rushed to find out if they belonged to their missing loved ones.
One was the Sutton-Richardson family. The other was the Perrymans. Timothy Perryman disappeared six years ago while hiking in the area.