The skeletal remains found in Malibu Canyon on Monday afternoon have been identified by authorities as those of Mitrice Richardson, the young woman who vanished nearly a year ago after being released from the Lost Hills/Malibu Sheriff's Station, according to a source familiar with the investigation.
The identification of the remains, found deep in a ravine by park rangers checking for marijuana plants, apparently brings to a grim close the much-publicized mystery over the whereabouts of the Cal State Fullerton graduate who would have celebrated her 25th birthday this past April.
An official announcement is scheduled at the Sheriff's Department headquarters at 9:15 a.m.
Her arrest for being unable to pay an $89 dinner tab at a Malibu restaurant and her subsequent release in the dark hours of the early morning last Sept. 17 without a car, cellphone or purse sparked widespread criticism of Sheriff's Department personnel and triggered two lawsuits accusing the department of negligence.
Beyond that, her disappearance provoked debate over the L.A. County Sheriff's Department's procedures for releasing people at night as well as whether she should have been held for a mental health evaluation after she acted bizarrely at the restaurant.
And at a time when law enforcement agencies and the media have been accused of devoting less attention to minorities who go missing than to pretty white women who disappear, Richardson — a black woman who was a strikingly attractive former beauty pageant contestant — got extraordinary attention, becoming a high-profile enough case to make the cover of People magazine last fall along with several other missing people.
Over several months, law enforcement carried out four searches — the last being the most extensive ever undertaken by the county -- covering a total of 40 square miles of Malibu Canyon while investigators from the L.A. Police Department spent months tracking clues and were eventually joined by L.A. Sheriff's Department detectives. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas got the county to offer a reward for information leading to her whereabouts. Friends and family followed up on sightings and arranged a fifth search of the canyon by unmanned drones. "If you knew how many buses I've chased down," Ronda Hampton, a psychologist who was friends with Richardson, said recently.
Earlier this summer, Los Angeles investigators scoured Las Vegas for the missing woman after a friend of Richardson's from her teen years said he saw her at a bar in a Las Vegas hotel in June and approached her, calling her by name. The woman looked at him and wordlessly walked away. But investigators called it their best lead to date and held a news conference in Las Vegas pleading with Richardson to come forward and let them know if she was alright.
The bones that were found in the ravine on Monday were about a mile out of the range of the county's last big search for her.
-- Carla Hall and Andrew Blankstein