Rhonda Beckford and Jamie Runions talk to media after meeting with Belton police Tuesday afternoon. The families of Kara Kopetsky and Jessica Runions were notified Monday evening about the discovery of unidentified skeletal remains. Shelly Yang The Kansas City Star
Rhonda Beckford and Jamie Runions talk to media after meeting with Belton police Tuesday afternoon. The families of Kara Kopetsky and Jessica Runions were notified Monday evening about the discovery of unidentified skeletal remains. Shelly Yang The Kansas City Star

Local

Families of Kara Kopetsky, Jessica Runions meet with Belton police after two human skulls found

By Laura Bauer, Donald Bradley, Kaitlyn Schwers and Katy Bergen

The Star

April 04, 2017 11:31 AM

UPDATED April 05, 2017 11:40 AM

Hours after authorities found a second skull Tuesday near a quarry in rural Cass County, two moms sat together with their pain — and a hope for answers.

Rhonda Beckford and Jamie Runions held hands, a symbol of a bond that bound them together when Runions’ daughter, Jessica, disappeared in early September. Beckford’s daughter, Kara Kopetsky, vanished in May 2007.

Authorities found a skull Monday and another Tuesday but have not identified either. They did reach out to the Kopetsky and Runions families to alert them to the find and later summoned the Beckfords to the Belton police station to share more information.

Officials don’t know how long it will take to know whether the remains are the two daughters. But if they are, that brings some comfort.

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“If it’s her, I’m glad she was with Kara,” Jamie Runions said Tuesday. “My biggest fear was that she was alone. I’m glad they were together.”

The missing girls didn’t know each other, and they disappeared nine years apart.

The moms didn’t know each other either, but now they are close. “Like sisters,” they said.

“Now we speak for our daughters,” Beckford said. “And we want Kara and Jessica to have the last word.”

The women’s disappearances have led both families to conduct searches, pass out fliers and work closely with police for answers. For Kopetsky’s family, the search has been nine years and 11 months long.

“We’ve just been trying to get justice for Kara and get resolution,” Beckford said. “That’s our favorite word. I don’t like closure, I like resolution. We’ve been looking for resolution for 10 years.”

A mushroom hunter found human bones Monday afternoon. Authorities then scoured the wooded area south of Belton near a quarry Monday night and Tuesday.

Authorities closed more than 6 miles of Missouri Y in Cass County on Tuesday afternoon so several agencies and cadaver dogs could better search the area of East 233rd Street and Missouri Y, Cass County Sheriff’s Capt. Kevin Tieman said. The search was called off for the night around 5 p.m.

Investigators will meet Wednesday morning to evaluate the weather before resuming the search for more remains.

After the second skull was found Tuesday, a Belton detective called Jim and Rhonda Beckford.

The two mothers were sitting down for a television interview in the Beckfords’ Belton home. The cameras were on when Jim answered the call from Lt. Brad Swanson, who has worked Kopetsky’s case for years.

“I’m not going to say 100 percent, but just my gut is telling me we may have some resolution,” Swanson can be heard saying in the video, posted on a KSHB reporter’s Twitter feed.

As the two moms heard those words, they clutched hands even tighter. Jamie Runion began to tear up. Kopetsky’s mother held her breath momentarily as tears welled and she stifled a cry.

Within minutes, the families left for the police station.

Jessica Runions was last seen Sept. 8 leaving a gathering of friends in south Kansas City. Runions left the gathering with Kylr Yust, 28, who dated Kopetsky in the months before she disappeared and was questioned back then.

“They told us that we may have answers,” Beckford told a Star reporter before she left for the station.

Yet shortly after 1:30 p.m., the mothers — who stood before reporters holding hands with a box of tissues — left the station without any. But they’re hopeful they will come soon.

“At this time, they have not been able to make a solid identification,” Beckford said, Jamie Runions standing to her right. “It’s still just skeletal remains. ... We are still waiting. We’ll be waiting for the foreseeable future.”

Beckford had just gotten home from work Monday and was thinking about dinner when the phone rang. It was the police. She called Jamie Runions.

“I don’t remember what I was doing” Runions said. “My mind went blank.”

Later that evening, they went to the site where the remains had been discovered. After Jessica disappeared, Runions had gone out looking for her daughter at least four times a week, but not as far south as 233rd Street, near where the bones were found.

“But I never went past 215th Street,” she said. “I never went that far.”

Neither one slept much Monday night. They spent much of the night texting back and forth. Runions made a photo, putting the two girls side-by-side.

They look at what happened to themselves differently. After a decade, the roller coaster had exhausted Beckford. On Tuesday, she seemed cried out. How many times had the scab been ripped away?

“After 10 years, it’s time for this nightmare to end,” she said. “It’s time to say goodbye.”

Since September, when Jessica Runions disappeared, Beckford and Jamie Runions have become close. They know what the other goes through.

“We’re like a team,” Beckford told reporters Tuesday. Others say they understand, “but they don’t. It’s not like any other thing. We are like sisters.”

Runions squeezed her friend’s hand.

“They got me through the holidays, and they’ve always been there for me,” Runions said. “I couldn’t have done this without them.”

Cass County sheriff calls search for remains a 'multi-day' event

Cass County Sheriff Jeff Weber said Tuesday afternoon that the remains of two bodies, including skulls, had been found in a wooded area west of Peculiar and the search of the area would be a multi-day event.

Keith Myers The Kansas City Star

Beckford knows that the next days — and possibly weeks — won’t be easy.

“The waiting is the hardest part,” Beckford said. “I’m hopeful, but I’m not trying to get my hopes up because we’ve been here before.

“Of course we know even if it’s not Kara, it’s someone’s loved one, and someone has answers,” Beckford said. “Good or bad, someone has answers.”

It was not clear how long the bones had been in the area, Weber said.

Jessica Runions’ family has been out nearly every weekend searching for her since the day she disappeared. Two days later, the 21-year-old’s burned vehicle was found in a nearby wooded area.

Yust, who was last seen with Runions, has been charged with burning the vehicle. His trial is scheduled for October. Soon after Runions’ disappearance, authorities learned of a possible connection to Kopetsky’s case.

Yust, 28, had been the off-and-on boyfriend of Kopetsky before she disappeared in early May 2007.

Some areas in Belton have been searched by Runions’ family, but not as far south as the quarry, said Tiffani Sims, Runions’ cousin.

On two consecutive weekends in January, search teams found a man’s body as they looked for Runions. They found one Jan. 21 and the other Jan. 28.

Hearing about Monday’s discovery of bones brings mixed feelings, Sims said.

“Speaking for myself, it’s really difficult,” Sims said. “It’s distracting. You lose sleep over it.

“You hope it’s not her, but at the same time, you do hope it is because it will bring closure and answers.”

Jamie Runions posted side-by-side images of her daughter and Kopetsky on her Facebook page Tuesday afternoon. She didn’t include any words.

But her Facebook friends filled her page Tuesday with prayers and kind words.

“I have a knot in my stomach, praying for your family and Karas,” one friend wrote.

Another added: “I have been praying and praying for God to reveal what happened to these ladies!!! This is not the answer I had planned in my head if it is then God will help those officers find evidence at the scene still!!!”

Laura Bauer: 816-234-4944, @kclaurab

Katy Bergen: 816-234-4120, @KatyBergen

Mothers of missing girls speak out

Rhonda Beckford and Jamie Runions talk about the last 24 hours after the remains of two people were found near Belton.

Don Bradley The Kansas City Star