Human remains found Saturday in a park north of Sartell, Minn., are almost certainly those of Mandy Matula, the 24-year-old Eden Prairie woman who disappeared nearly six months ago, her family said.
Authorities haven’t confirmed the identity or gender of the remains, but they contacted Matula’s family after her ring was recovered at the scene, along with deteriorated remnants of a jacket embroidered with the University of Minnesota Duluth logo, the fast-pitch softball emblem and the number 14 — Matula’s softball number at UMD, where she graduated in 2011.
“We believe it’s Mandy,” Steven Matula, her 22-year-old brother, said from the family’s Eden Prairie home late Saturday. “The closure is finally coming, before winter.”
Her brother said he felt some relief after the countless searches he led, including at Mississippi River County Park, where the remains were found in a shallow grave at 1 p.m. Saturday by a Boy Scout leader hiking alone.
“I’m happy — Mandy is home now,” he said.
The Eden Prairie Police Department was told of the discovery by the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office and was working with county officials and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to identify the remains. At the park in Rice late Saturday, a sheriff’s deputy blocked the entrance as media congregated nearby. The law enforcement vehicles that came and went included Eden Prairie police cars.
The Matula family hopes to go to the park Sunday. “To actually see where it took place, it will bring closure,” said her father, Wayne Matula. “That’s forever going to be in our hearts.”
The family said an autopsy will be conducted Sunday morning and results are expected Tuesday or Wednesday. They then plan to have a funeral at Grace Church in Eden Prairie.
Making the already heartbreaking discovery all the more difficult, the remains consisted mostly of bones, the family said, as it appears animals had gotten to the body. The clothing was deteriorated except for the logos’ embroidery.
Suspect shot himself
Wayne Matula last saw his daughter leave their Eden Prairie house with her ex-boyfriend, David Roe, late on May 1 without her cellphone or purse. Roe, 24, of Victoria, was the primary person of interest in the case, telling her family she had gotten out of his car at a nearby park. But the next day, he fatally shot himself in the head in the police parking lot when called in for questioning, leaving a Post-it note on his car about a goodbye video he left for his younger brother.
Despite dozens of searches, few leads or evidence turned up.
“This is the first time since Day 1 that we’ve found anything to follow,” Wayne Matula said. “That’s what was so frustrating. There was no evidence of a crime.”
Investigators speculated that her body might be near St. Cloud, because Roe had been studying criminal justice at St. Cloud State University. His Ford Escape also had dirt on the underbody of the vehicle that Steven Matula said matched dirt from the park, and Roe’s cellphone pinged near it the night Matula went missing.
Since then, Matula’s family and friends organized searches on the river and through wooded parks. They posted thousands of signs with her smiling face at boat launches and sporting goods stores across the metro. And they sold purple bracelets (her favorite color) and shirts with No. 14.
“We searched so heavily,” her brother said.
Leah Foster, a longtime friend of Matula’s, said Saturday night that “it’s hard, because we waited this long. We knew it was coming, but it’s hard when it happens.”
She and others had searched the park many times, and last month, police issued an alert to hunters to beware that the park was an “area of interest.”
“It was the only place I thought she could have been. And she was,” Foster said. “It’s nice to know we’re done searching.”
Of three high-profile missing Twin Cities women cases this year, Matula had been missing the longest. Kira Steger, 30, of St. Paul, was missing for just over two months before her body was discovered in the Mississippi River, while the body of Danielle Jelinek, 28, of Oakdale, was found in May two days after Steger’s; she had been missing for five months.
Steger’s funeral was held Saturday in Wisconsin, where she grew up.
The Steger family had helped the Matulas search for Mandy after Steven Matula, within days of his sister’s disappearance, organized a Facebook page to search for Steger and other missing Minnesotans. He also turned out at searches to help other families.
Now, with Roe dead, many questions about what happened that night may still remain indefinitely.
“We’re praying for answers,” he said Saturday night.
Added their father: “This is a mixed blessing,” he said. “Finally we get some closure.”