MIDLOTHIAN, Ill. — A Harvey woman who was found Wednesday in a Cook County forest preserve died of strangulation, according to medical officials. Her death has been ruled a homicide.
Vanessa Ceja, 22, was reported missing Monday by her mother. Her mother said Ceja had not returned from a walk on a trail at the Midlothian Meadows Forest Preserve.
Forest Preserves of Cook County police, officers from the Cook County Sheriff’s Office and Midlothian police department worked together to search for Ceja. Authorities said they searched the forest preserve, local stores and used a helicopter and search and rescue dogs. Police tracked her phone to an apartment complex in Oak Forest.
According to Cook County forest preserve officials, a woman’s body was found in the woods at Midlothian Meadows Wednesday afternoon. The Cook County Medical Examiner identified the body as that of Ceja.
On Thursday, the medical examiner’s office ruled her cause of death as asphyxia due to strangulation. Community activist Andrew Holmes said the woman was not only strangled, but also beaten and burned.
Holmes is helping the family find answers. He spent hours on Thursday passing out fliers to people in the park.
“Whoever was in this forest needs to be brought to justice. There’s got to be an alert for any female or male walking along this path here for someone just to come out and then all of a sudden take your life the way they took this young lady’s life,” he said.
Kelly Rapp started a search party when she heard the young woman went missing. She said she has children of her own and couldn’t imagine what here family is going through.
There’s a $2,000 reward being offered for information. Any one with information is asked to call 1-800-883-5587 or 1-800-U TELL US.