Aug 12, 2010

Mitrice Richardson was last seen leaving a Los Angeles County sheriff's station in Malibu on September 17, 2009.
 
 
 
Skeletal remains found Monday in a remote area of California's Malibu Canyon are those of Mitrice Richardson, who has been missing for nearly a year, a family friend told CNN Thursday.

Rhonda Hampton said the coroner's office called Richardson's mother, Latice Sutton, Thursday morning to report that a positive identification was made of Richardson following an autopsy.

"We're in shock," Hampton said. "I was always holding out hope. This is devastating, regardless of whether we believed she was in that canyon. You don't want that to be true, so there's a level of denial because that's what keeps you going."

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office would not comment on the report but said the sheriff would hold a news conference later Thursday morning.

The remains, which included a human skull, were found Monday by park rangers searching the area for marijuana groves, said Los Angeles County Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore.

iReport: See pictures of the search, Richardson's family

"It's incredibly treacherous terrain," Whitmore said of the remote site. "There is no road, no trail even if you know exactly where you are going."

Whitmore said it appeared the remains had been in the area "for quite awhile."

The apparent discovery of Richardson's remains comes almost 12 months since she disappeared after leaving a Los Angeles County Sheriff's station in Malibu, California, in the early morning hours of September 17, 2009.

The former beauty pageant contestant, who was 24 at the time, had been arrested the previous evening at an upscale restaurant for allegedly not paying for her meal, and patrons at the restaurant said she exhibited strange behavior.

Her family has said the college honors graduate suffered from mental health issues and should have been kept at the sheriff's station until a relative arrived to pick her up.

Assistant Chief Coroner Ed Winter told CNN on Monday that an anthropologist and pathologist were examining the remains, and an odontologist -- or dental expert -- would also help make a final identification.

The Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday that the remains are those of a woman and that "women's clothing was also found near the scene." The newspaper cited unidentified law enforcement sources.

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