Hannah Choi of Fairfax County, Virginia, first reported missing on March 6, was found dead in nearby Charles County, Maryland, last Thursday, authorities confirmed at a press conference on Monday.
A passerby found Choi’s remains in a wooded area on the 1100 block of Overlook Drive in Accokeek, an area within Piscataway Park. They then called 911.
Joel Mosso Merino, 27, Choi’s ex-boyfriend, is believed to be responsible for her death. Fairfax police suspect Merino killed Choi in their shared Alexandria home after an argument.
Choi, 35, was last seen at home on March 5, police said. Friends came to see her the next day, but she did not answer the door.
Choi had already missed several appointments. Her friends decided to call the police, who then conducted a search and found that Choi and Merino were still at home on the evening of March 5.
A friend said Choi had broken up with Merino weeks before she went missing. On the night of her disappearance, police believe “something happened” between her and Merino and that she sustained “a significant injury.”
Police recovered the car that Merino had driven on the evening of March 5 in Washington, D.C., on March 8. A ticket revealed that he was also supposed to fly to California on the same day, but he never showed up to board his flight, police said.
Merino has been charged with second-degree murder and felony disposal of a body. His arrest warrant was served shortly after Choi’s disappearance.
Police on Monday also announced a $40,000 reward for information that will lead to his arrest. “Joel Merino is Fairfax County’s most wanted and he is on the run,” Maj. Ed O’Carroll told reporters.
Police said Merino was last seen in the Atlanta area, but “he can be anywhere.” They also believe he has changed his name.
Choi’s family recalled her as someone who always tried to help others. “We will always remember [Hannah] as someone who was brave, strong, independent and [as] someone who dedicated her life to helping others,” her sister, Minna, said at the conference.
Minna, along with six others, has organized a GoFundMe page to help their family. The campaign has raised about $53,000.
Anyone with information about Merino is urged to call Fairfax County police at 703-246-7800. Anonymous tips may also be submitted by calling 1-866-411-TIPS, texting “FCCS” plus tip to 847411 or filling this web form.