Tia Bonta vanished last August in Orlando, Florida
Tia Bonta was by all accounts a doting mother living in Orlando, Florida, with her baby boy — so when the 25-year-old vanished last August, her family prepared for the worst.
“She would never just leave like that,” her father told local TV station WKMG, “especially since she has a kid.”
Eventually, her family’s fears were realized.
Authorities said that in September, two men made a grisly discovery while picking palmetto berries in Bithlo, Florida, a rural municipality outside Orlando: As they were searching for berries, the men found the skeletal remains of a woman about six feet off the road.
According to the Orange County, Florida, Sheriff’s Office, several items of “very distinctive” jewelry were found with the woman’s body, including a silver ring with “MOM” and hearts engraved on the band.
“The jewelry led us in the direction of who it could possibly be,” Orange County sheriff’s detective Peter Hernandez said in a news conference on Wednesday afternoon, noting that the department’s tip line had received numerous submissions based off the ring.
“The unique jewelry broke the case,” added sheriff’s spokeswoman Jane Watrel. “It really helped us move this investigation forward.”
• Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter.
This week, official forensic identification determined that the bones belonged to Tia Bonta. But authorities are still trying to determine her cause and manner of death.
“This is an active death investigation,” detective Hernandez said Wednesday. “The exact cause of death is under examination.”
For now, Bonta’s case remains a mystery — though authorities said foul play is suspected.
• PEOPLE’s special edition True Crime Stories: 35 Real Cases That Inspired the Show Law & Order is on sale now.
Last year, deputies identified a man who was last seen with Bonta six days before she was reported missing. Authorities say that he is no longer a person of interest and has retained an attorney.
Since then, there have been no additional suspects in the case.
“The death is shocking information,” said Watrel, the sheriff’s spokeswoman. “We want to let everyone know that our thoughts are with the Bonta family during this very difficult time.”
The investigation is ongoing.