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Authorities believe they have discovered the body of 18-year-old Linda Stoltzfoos, an Amish teenager who disappeared last year while walking home from church in Pennsylvania.
The Lancaster County District Attorney’s Office said in a press conference on Thursday that the remains were wrapped in a tarp and buried behind the former worksite of a Justo Smoker, 34. Smoker is the the main suspect in the teenager's disappearance, according to PennLive.
While the remains have not yet been positively identified through forensics, District Attorney Heather Adams said authorities “strongly believe” they belong to Stoltzfooz.
Stoltzfoos disappeared June 21, 2020 while walking back from church in the Bird-In-Hand area, according to a statement from prosecutors.
Adams said authorities believe Smoker abducted the teenager and then killed her before burning her body in an area off of Harvest Road where investigators later recovered a woman’s bra and stockings. They believe Smoker then moved the body to an area behind a Gap store in Dutchland Inc, where he had once worked.
The body was found with a dress, bonnet and shoes consistent with the ones Stoltzfoos was wearing when she disappeared. A preliminary evaluation of the remains by the coroner’s office determined the body was a female and around the same age as Stoltzfoos, Adams said in the press conference.
An autopsy to confirm the cause and manner of death is expected to be conducted on Friday.
Smoker was arrested a month after the disappearance after multiple witnesses reported seeing an Amish female in the passenger seat of a red or orange Kia matching the description of Smoker’s vehicle, according to an earlier release by prosecutors.
One witness reportedly testified that Stoltzfoos did not return her wave as she passed and “looked at me with pleading eyes,” PennLive reports.
Surveillance footage obtained by investigators also captured Stoltzfoos near a red Kia Rio as she walked along Beechdale Road.
Adams said Thursday the surveillance footage proved to be critical in linking Smoker to the crime.
Smoker has reportedly denied ever meeting the teenager or playing a role in her death. " Adams told Oxygen.com the investigation 'did not reveal any past knowledge or connection' between Stoltzfoos and Smoker."
While he was initially charged with felony kidnapping and misdemeanor false imprisonment, the charges were later upgraded to homicide in December 2020 after prosecutors argued that Stoltzfoos was likely dead.
Members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, East Lampeter Township Police Department and the Pennsylvania State Police discovered the human remains earlier this week during a search for the missing teenager. Authorities have not said what led them to the area.
Stoolfootz's uncle told WHP-TV that he was “still in shock” after the discovery and is “never ready for news like this.”
Others in the community said they hope the discovery of the remains brings the family some measure of closure.
“It’s sad,” Krista Hanna told the news outlet. “I hope that the family feels peace a little bit and the search is over and they know now what happened.”
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