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'I didn’t think she'd ever be found': Greeley community remembers Jonelle Matthews

The remains of the missing 12-year-old were found 34 years after she disappeared.

GREELEY, Colo. — The sounds of a 12-year-old girl singing with her choir are etched into the minds of many in Greeley. The video is a final memory of Jonelle Matthews. 

"I didn’t think she’d ever be found since it’d been so long," said Mike Peters, a retired reporter for The Greeley Tribune. "It just hit us all very hard. Even the people who didn’t know her."

Greeley Police said they found the skull belonging to Jonelle at an oil and gas site in Weld County, as well as some of the clothes she was wearing on her final day. The discovery helped them quickly identify the remains of the missing 12-year-old who was last seen in December 1984. 

RELATED: 'It's closure for me and my family but raises new questions': Bones of girl missing for 34 years found in Weld County

It may be more than three decades since she went missing, but the community never forgot.

"Everybody still hoped but everybody knew probably with no trace of her that she’d probably been killed," Peters said. "She would put down a pillow that she’d sit on to watch TV. When her parents got home, the pillow was on the floor, the TV was on, but she was gone."

The case impacted every part of life in Greeley. Peters said he remembers it well. 

As a reporter, he wrote more than 40 stories on the case and became close with the family. Archive newspaper clippings show how it impacted the city. 

"My daughter was at school, and they filled envelopes with pictures of her that they mailed all around the county to people so that they’d know what she looked like," Peters said. "The kids no longer walked to school alone, they no longer played out after dark. Everything was calmed down for a while because parents were nervous."

Police will not yet say if this week’s discovery has led to any new leads in the case. There have been many suspects throughout the years, but no one has ever been charged. 

Anyone with information about this case is asked to contact Detective Robert Cash at 970-350-9601 or the tip line at 970-351-5100. 

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