A Montgomery County teenager missing since July was found dead on Oct. 31, and her adoptive mother is "of interest" in the homicide investigation, authorities said Thursday.
The dismembered body of Grace Packer, who was 14 when she purportedly went missing from her Abington home, was discovered in a wooded area of Luzerne County.
Her death was ruled a homicide, but murder charges have not been filed, and officials did not say how she was killed.
Her mother, Sara Packer, 41, was jailed on Nov. 12 in Montgomery County on charges of endangering the welfare of a child and obstructing the administration of law. She was ordered held for trial on Wednesday.
District Attorneys Matthew D. Weintraub of Bucks County, Stefanie J. Salavantis of Luzerne County, and Kevin R. Steele of Montgomery County said at a joint news conference in Doylestown Thursday afternoon that they still are looking for evidence, including information from anyone who recently saw or spoke to Grace or Sara Packer.
"Even now, months later, someone might remember something that may seem insignificant to them but it could be the key and the piece that we need to solve Grace's murder," Steele said.
Grace Packer's remains were found early Halloween night by two hunters near Francis E. Walter Dam in Bear Creek Township. They called 911 after coming upon a head and torso; a search the next day produced two arms and two legs, said Salavantis.
It took several days for the remains to be identified as Grace's, she said. Authorities are looking for answers about the series of events that took Grace from Abington to the Luzerne County woods, Steele said.
"Two things are certain," said Weintraub. "Grace Packer was murdered, and we will use all of our joint investigative resource to bring Grace's killer to justice."
Sara Packer's bail was reduced from $200,000, to $10,000 Wednesday. She had not posted bail as of late Wednesday, but "if somebody sees her getting on a bus or a plane, we'd love to know about it," Steele said.
Packer, who reported her missing on July 11, is the last known person to have seen Grace alive, officials said. The teen was last seen by others on July 4 at a family picnic in Laurys Station, Lehigh County.
"We are at a point where we need the public's help. We need information," said Steele.
Authorities allege Sara Packer "impeded" their investigation and did not give accurate information to police. For more than a month last summer, police tried to contact Packer and eventually found her residence vacant.
Grace, her mother, her mother's boyfriend, Jacob Sullivan, and her adopted 12-year-old brother had lived in a rented house on Tennis Avenue in Abington. After she went missing, the family moved to a rented home on East Cherry Road in Richland Township. Police believe Packer lived in both places at the time of Grace's disappearance.
In August, Grace and her brother were withdrawn from the Abington School District. (Her younger brother is safe, Weintraub said.)
Packer gave police a typed goodbye letter purportedly from Grace, which authorities later determined not to have been written by the girl. She also told police she had notified all relatives when she had not, court filings allege.
Packer told authorities that Grace had behavioral disorders, but did not specify what those were. Weintraub said the daughter had no disabilities. After her daughter went missing, Packer allegedly continued to collected $712 in disability funding per month for Grace, $3,616 of which she spent, according to the criminal complaint. In August, she filled out a form needed for the funding without reporting Grace had disappeared.
Grace "was a young lady with high energy," said Steele. "This is one of those investigations that everybody is working really hard on," he added, tearing up. "We need to solve what happened to her because this can't occur with another teenage girl."
Anyone with information can contact Bucks County detectives at 215-945-3100 or firstname.lastname@example.org.