Investigators believe they have found the human remains of Linda Stoltzfoos, an Amish teenager who has been missing for 10 months. The remains were found in a rural Pennsylvania area during the ongoing search for the 18-year-old girl.
Linda was reported missing on June 21, after she reportedly did not return for a youth group she was supposed to attend, according to ABC News.
Wednesday marked exactly 10 months since her suspected abduction, and Members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, East Lampeter Township Police Department, and Pennsylvania State Police were called to the scene. The remains are being forensically processed and will then be released to the Lancaster County Coroner’s Office for official identification, NBC News reported. Officials hope to determine the cause and manner of death.
The Amish teen was last seen walking home from Church around 12:30 p.m. on June 21, 2020, in Bird-in-the-Hand, East Lampeter Township. Her parents became concerned when she did not make it to her youth group later in the day and quickly called the police.
A suspect was arrested and later tried for her abduction. Justo Smoker, 34, of Paradise, Pennsylvania became a person of interest in the case when police were informed that multiple witnesses saw an Amish woman in the passenger side of a red/orange vehicle. That same vehicle was also seen in the Gap area on the afternoon Linda went missing, according to police reports.
Investigators later searched a rural location in Ronks about a month after the alleged kidnapping, hoping to find Linda. Instead, officials found articles of clothing belonging to Linda. Smoker’s vehicle was spotted at that same location on June 23, leading investigators to believe that he was responsible.
Police then obtained a security video of Linda being abducted on Beechdale Road, where she had been walking home from church. The video depicts a red Kia Rio that matches the vehicle description provided by witnesses. Those same witnesses described the driver which was consistent with Smoker.
A month after Linda’s abduction, Smoker was charged with felony kidnapping and misdemeanor false imprisonment, though no body was found. In December of 2020, Smoker was charged with homicide, as the prosecutor concluded that Linda Stoltzfoos was deceased, and that Smoker was the cause of her death.
Smoker is incarcerated at Lancaster County Prison awaiting trial.
As of Wednesday, “the coroner’s office has not yet made a positive forensic identification,” Lancaster Country District Attorney Heather Adams said during a news conference. However, “based on all of the information currently known and available to us,” Adams continued, “We strongly believe and are comfortable saying, that the remains are those of 18-year-old Linda Stoltzfoos.”
The remains were recovered near Gap behind Smoker’s previous place of employment. The autopsy is scheduled for Friday which is expected to confirm the identify and determine the cause and manner of death. As of now the current forensic information available leads investigators to believe the remains belong to Linda.
According to Adams, police believe that Smoker killed Stoltzfoos within hours of allegedly kidnapping her on June 21 and proceeded to bury her behind a business on Harvest Drive in Ronks. It’s believed that Smoker then transported the body several days later.
The search for Linda didn’t stop since her disappearance was reported. Law enforcement and volunteers have searched over 15,000 hours for Stoltzfoos. While it is a tragic end, the finding of the remains is closure that was not previously available over the past 10 months.
A post on the Facebook Page ‘Amish Girl Missing – Linda Stoltzfoos’ thanked supporters of the investigation for their prayers “to help bring Linda home.” The statement continued: “At this time, We regret to inform you that her body has been found. Please continue to keep the family in your prayers as they grieve. The P.O. box is still open to letters of encouragement and support.”
The family has requested privacy during this difficult time.