Investigators said Tuesday that the decomposed body found on a remote embankment in the Cleveland National Forest near San Juan Capistrano is believed to be that of a 28-year-old Laguna Hills woman who has been missing since February.
Erica Alonso, who was 27 years old at the time of her disappearance, was last seen Feb. 15 after leaving her boyfriend's home in Irvine, according to the Orange County Sheriff's Department.
Her Honda Civic was found, but her whereabouts remained unknown. Biologists working for Caltrans discovered the body about 10:30 p.m. Monday, said Lt. Jeff Hallock, a spokesman for the sheriff's department.
Officials cautioned that the identification was preliminary and that investigators will use dental records and fingerprint analysis to confirm whether the body is indeed that of Alonso.
Following the body's discovery, sheriff’s deputies remained in the area overnight and began searching for clues at dawn. It is unclear how long the body was exposed to the elements.
Fearing the worst, Alonso's father went to the scene Tuesday and had been hoping to confirm whether the body was that of his daughter, Hallock said.
Her father told KABC-TV Channel 7, “I want to know, I want to find out, I want to find out.”
Her family had offered a $5,000 reward to help locate her.
On Valentine’s Day, she and her on-and-off boyfriend went to a Costa Mesa nightclub for drinks. At the nightclub, they met another couple who offered to drive them to his home in Irvine.
The second couple left his home about 3:45 a.m. when Alonso and the sometime-boyfriend began arguing, authorities said.
Authorities believe she drove away in her 2014 Honda Civic, which was found March 25 in the Glenwood Park neighborhood of Aliso Viejo, a mile from her home.
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Times staff writer Matt Hamilton contributed to this report.