State police are looking for Jonathan William Beal, 23, of Scratch Hill Road, Meyersdale, for the ligature strangulation homicide of Justine Marie Jackson, 19, Meyersdale, whose body was found Sunday in a shallow grave near the Keystone Viaduct along the Great Allegheny Passage hiking trail.
A warrant has been issued for Beal's arrest, charging him with criminal homicide, abuse of a corpse and aggravated assault. The abuse of a corpse charge stems from her body being placed in an 18-inch grave, state police said. Rumors that her body was dismembered are not true.
State police and District Attorney Lisa Lazzari-Strasiser held a press conference on Tuesday asking that anyone with information about Beal's whereabouts contact state police at 814-445-4104.
"Please put feelers out; we need to find him and put him in handcuffs," Trooper Stephen Limani said. "If anyone knows his whereabouts, contact state police. If you are harboring him, you will be arrested."
They do not know if Beal has left the area, Lazzari-Strasiser said.
"I hope he contacts state police and turns himself in," she said. "We consider him dangerous."
Jackson's family is asking that their privacy be respected, Limani said.
The investigation began with a report from a student at the Somerset County Technology Center on Oct. 26. The unidentified girl told a school official that she believed her best friend, Justine Marie Jackson, was killed by Jonathan Beal. State police investigated this as a missing person case in an attempt to locate her. Jackson was last seen alive in Beal's presence on Sept. 14 by at least two individuals. They were walking southeast toward Scratch Hill Road where Beal lives.
In an interview with state police, Beal admitted that he was with Jackson on that date. In contradictory statements, Beal told police that he had a relationship with Jackson because of her drug use, but that he had ended the relationship because of her drug use.
Beal made numerous statements to multiple people that he killed Jackson and buried her near "the bike trail," police said. He also made numerous statements stating that Jackson had moved to Baltimore, Md., to sell drugs. State police coordinated with various law enforcement agencies in Maryland to try to locate Jackson.
Jackson had told friends and family that she believed she was pregnant with Beal's child, according to the affidavit. Limani refused to confirm or deny that she was pregnant. Beal is believed to have left the area immediately following the Oct. 29 search of his residence.
A person walking on the trail on Sunday found human remains in a grave that was about 18 inches deep, Limani said. Jackson was identified through dental records. The body was found about a half-mile from where she was last seen alive, in Larimer Township.
Lazzari-Strasiser said there was a great collaboration between the team led by Dr. Dennis Dirkmaat, chairman of the forensic anthropology department at Mercyhurst University in Erie, and the state police.
"There has been some speculation that law enforcement was not acting on information received; that is not true," she said. "We had no information that she was missing for six weeks. That was just two weeks ago. They did a tremendous job with bizarre and conflicting information as it was."
The application for the search warrant of Beal's residence states that there was no activity on Jackson's cellphone or Facebook page since Sept. 14. Handwritten notes from Jackson were recovered confirming that a romantic relationship existed between Jackson and Beal.
Jackson lived a "very transient lifestyle," according to Limani. Her family is from Maryland. She had only been living a little while with an elderly aunt in Meyersdale, and she was in the process of moving out of her aunt's home.
The numerous erroneous phone calls to police and local news media and the "bizarre" series of social media posts were distracting to a certain extent, Limani said. State police did a K-9 search within two days of the initial report of Jackson being missing. A multiagency search with cadaver dogs had been scheduled for Monday.
"We did everything we could," he said. "As investigators, we love to get good information. The hard part was people type on social media, and I will mention Facebook, and it is hard to track down the legitimacy of the information. The last thing we were hoping for was that she was deceased. Our sympathy goes out to the family."