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Remains ID'd as runaway teenager

NORCROSS -- Skeletal remains found in a wooded area near Jimmy Carter Boulevard are those of a 16-year-old runaway girl missing since August, police said Thursday.

Police believe someone killed Maritza Yepez, but they say it's not clear how she died. Dental records verified her identity.

Yepez, who resided with her aunt in Lawrenceville, had a track record of running away. She was last seen alive Aug. 23, said Gwinnett police spokesman Officer Brian Kelly.

"I'm not sure if her parents are around or in a different country," Kelly said. "She had a history of leaving home for days at a time. (Her disappearance) didn't cause any great alarm right away."

Yepez's death is being investigated as a homicide, and foul play is suspected. The investigation has "noted elements of homicidal violence" associated with her death, but police have not released an official cause, Kelly said.

Police weren't sure if Yepez attended school in the Gwinnett system. School authorities referred all questions back to police.

A man walking his dog off Forest Vale Drive came across Yepez's body Dec. 6 and called police. Near her remains lay several changes of clothes, including jeans and T-shirts.

Police believe the body was in the woods for several months.

Detectives "are actively trying to piece together the last days and hours of Yepez's life," Kelly said.

Police withheld the original missing persons report Thursday because it's considered "to be germane to the ongoing investigation," Kelly said. They ask for the public's help in charting Yepez's final days.

Investigators urge anyone with information about the case to call the Gwinnett County Police Department at 770-513-5300 or Crime Stoppers at 404-577-TIPS.

Anonymous tips are welcome and could lead to a reward of up to $2,000.