Rhonda Beckford has been searching for answers ever since her daughter, Kara Kopetsky, went missing on May 4, 2007.
The 17-year-old was last seen leaving her Belton, Missouri, high school during a free period. She was never seen or heard from again.
Four or five people saw Kara in the hallway before she was seen on the school’s security cameras leaving campus, Beckford says, but no one knew where she went.
“That’s the big question,” Beckford tells PEOPLE. “What happened?”
Now, Beckford hopes she is on the path to an answer. Kylr Yust, 28, once a suspect in her daughter’s disappearance, has been arrested in connection to another missing Missouri woman.
Jessica Runions was last seen leaving a party on Sept. 8 with Yust, a friend of her boyfriend, according to police. On Sunday, authorities discovered Jessica’s empty and burned SUV on the side of the road.
Yust was arrested in Benton County, Missouri, on Tuesday for allegedly knowingly burning Jessica’s vehicle. He has not been charged with the 21-year-old’s disappearance.
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Kara and Yust dated for nine months when they were teenagers in 2007, Beckford tells PEOPLE. Days before she went missing, Kara filed a restraining order against Yust, alleging he was violent towards her, a Cass County official tells PEOPLE.
“We tried to tell her that he wasn’t good for her but that just drew them closer together,” Beckford tells PEOPLE.
Finally, a week before her disappearance, Beckford says Kara decided she’d had enough.
“[She] started to mature and see him for who he was,” Beckford tells PEOPLE. “They say that [that moment of realization] is the most dangerous time because the abuser doesn’t want to let the abused go.”
Police questioned Yust about Kara’s disappearance but the then 18-year-old told authorities he was out of town visiting a sick relative. (Yust’s family declined PEOPLE’s request for comment.) He was never charged.
“You have to hold on to some sort of hope that she’s out there but as time went on we realized that she wasn’t going to come home,” Beckford says.
Beckford says Kara’s room hasn’t been touched since she went missing. Recently, Beckford has thought about cleaning it out.
“It’s emotionally hard [to see it every day], especially when you know she’s not coming home,” Beckford tells PEOPLE. “But [her brother] says even if you clean it out it’s still going to be Kara’s room.”
A History of Violence
Since his ex’s disappearance, Yust has been in trouble with the law, according to court documents obtained by PEOPLE.
In September 2011, Yust pleaded guilty to domestic violence after choking and striking his then-pregnant 18-year-old girlfriend, according to a police report obtained by PEOPLE. The victim claimed Yust told her, “I’ve killed people before, even ex-girlfriends out of sheer jealousy. I will kill you,” the report states.
The victim also alleged Yust told her he had killed her three kittens and would kill her family if she went to police, the report states. A Kansas City judge filed an order of protection, but the order was later dismissed, court records show.
In 2013, Yust was sentenced to four years for drug trafficking. He was released after serving three years, according to court documents.
Beckford says she and her family make a point of having a family member at every one of Yust’s court hearings.
“Kara has not been forgotten and we’re not going away,” Beckford says. “We’re not giving up.”
Jessica’s Family: ‘We’re Heartbroken’
Jessica Runions’ family tells PEOPLE they’re staying positive by leaning on each other and their faith since her disappearance.
“We’re heartbroken,” Jessica’s grandmother, Linda Runions, tells PEOPLE. “We’re hoping to hear something soon.”
Jessica was a baker at a local retirement home and was hoping to attend culinary school, her family tells PEOPLE.
Rhonda Beckford tells PEOPLE she understands what Jessica’s family is going through – especially her mother.
“Her world has changed and she doesn’t know how to adjust to it. Nobody does. You shouldn’t have to,” Beckford says.
On Wednesday, investigators searched the home of Yust’s grandfather looking for items belonging to Jessica including an iPhone, purse, and car keys, according a search warrant obtained by PEOPLE.
Authorities left the home with a blue plaid shirt, a Q-tip with blood and an alcohol pad with blood, the warrant states.
Yust has not been assigned an attorney and is being held on a $50,000 bond. A Jackson County judge entered a plea of not guilty on behalf of Yust. Both Kara’s and Jessica’s family plan on attending his trial.
“[Kara], we’re never going to give up,” Beckford says she’s telling her daughter. “When you’re found and brought home we’re going to put you to rest like you should be.”