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The San Diego Police Department reportedly confirmed that Elizabeth Sullivan had been identified as the body recovered from the San Diego bay

By Susan Young
December 09, 2016 10:06 PM
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Charismatic Navy wife Elizabeth Sullivan appeared to have vanished two years ago without a trace, but everyone who knew her had the same response: She never would have abandoned her two young daughters.

“It was not the outcome we had hoped for, but it does give her family some closure,” San Diego detective Lt. Mike Holden tells PEOPLE. “This is now a murder investigation and we haven’t ruled out any suspects.”

On Dec. 7, the San Diego Police Department confirmed Sullivan, who was 31 when she disappeared, had been identified as the body recovered from the San Diego bay two months earlier in the area where she was last seen on Oct. 13, 2014.

Her “badly decomposed” body was found floating in the channel by the bay on Oct. 4 this year.

“We all knew it was her,” says neighbor Brittany Garcia, who had joined in the search efforts after Sullivan’s disappearance, when the body was first discovered. “The timing was interesting.”

Not only was the body discovered almost two years exactly from her disappearance and close to where she lived, but it was also within days of Elizabeth’s husband, Matt, moving from San Diego to Maryland with his fiancée, Kayla Turner, their new baby and Elizabeth’s two daughters.

Matt didn’t respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment, but Elizabeth’s father, Tony Ricks, sent a text saying, “I am sorry. I have no comment(s) to make at this time. I appreciated your understanding and your respect for our family’s privacy through this very difficult time.”

Elizabeth’s cousin, Kwame Brown, left a message on a Facebook page, Remembering Our Loved One: Elizabeth Ricks Sullivan, stating:

“Our family has chosen to not speak to media. We are allowing the wonderful detectives in the San Diego Police Department to continue their investigation unfettered. We hope for justice for our loved one and peace for her children. We ask everyone to respect that.”

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Elizabeth Sullivan
| Credit: Facebook

Elizabeth was born and raised in Hampton, Virginia, and graduated from Kecoughtan High School in 2001. She met her husband, Matt, when he was stationed in Norfolk, Virginia, and the couple was married about five years at the time of her disappearance.

Matt transferred to San Diego about a year after they were married and worked at and lived in San Diego’s Point Loma with their two daughters, Ryan, now 6, and Grier, now 4.

The couple had been having some martial difficulties, but Matt told PEOPLE at the time Elizabeth vanished that she would never just leave her children.

“She’s a good mom,” he said then. “The girls need their mom. She’s been with them while I was at work or on deployment, she was always here.”

Chelsea Mulder was a good friend of Elizabeth when the two lived in San Diego, and they worked together at a coffee house on base.

“She loved being a mom, she would never have left those girls,” Mulder told PEOPLE. “We kept in touch on FB after I moved, and she was always talking about them.”

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Mulder says Elizabeth was smart, witty and a lot of fun. She said Elizabeth and Matt seemed to have a good relationship, and Elizabeth was the outgoing one while Matt was more shy.

“It’s hard to be married in the military. She was very close to her family and that was a strain on her, missing her folks and cousins, although she talked to her dad a lot on the phone,” Mulder says. “So it just didn’t seem like her to not contact her family after she disappeared.”

Garcia, their neighbor, says that the case was odd from the beginning — with the family and the police department offering little in the way of support for the missing person efforts.

“We were out putting up posters, searching, whatever, but we never got much encouragement from the police and it always seemed like they knew something we didn’t,” Garcia says. “All the search efforts simmered down pretty fast. No one was really going on the media talking about it much.”

At the time of her disappearance, Matt said his wife’s family had asked him not to talk to the media.

“I don’t want to upset them any more than they are,” he told PEOPLE. “My wife was very close to her cousins and I know they are just trying to do what’s right by her.”

Elizabeth’s family set up a GoFundMe, using the money to help in search efforts including hiring a private detective. But the case quickly went cold.

“We didn’t have leads, other than someone who thought they might have seen her at the soccer field,” detective Holden says. “No real tips ever came in, which was ominous.”

Garcia says Matt’s girlfriend moved in about two months after Elizabeth’s disappearance and quickly became a part of the community.

“It’s just all so strange,” Garcia says. “Why would her body show up in almost the exact spot where she was last spotted two years ago and right at the time when her husband and children were moving away?”

Now, San Diego police have shifted their investigation from a missing persons case to a homicide.

“We are re-interviewing everyone we spoke to during the missing person case,” Holden says. “Friends have already reached out to us asking what they can do to help. She was loved by a large number of people, and that says something about who she was.”