TEXAS — After spending nearly two years criss-crossing the world, Leanne Hecht Bearden’s adventures — and life — ended abruptly in woods near a home in central Texas.
Authorities announced Thursday that a body believed to be the 33-year-old woman had been found in Garden Ridge, the same city where she was last seen January 17 heading out from her in-laws’ house for what was supposed to be a one-hour walk.
Her family later confirmed her death, saying on a Facebook page dedicated to finding her that they were “understandably devastated.”
“Leanne was a lovely and remarkable young woman,” the family said, “and we will all miss her greatly.”
Just a few hours earlier Thursday, a post on the same page echoed the optimism and energy that had marked the family’s efforts to find Bearden.
“DON’T LET UP!” they urged all those who had joined them in looking for Bearden. “We are still hopeful.”
That hope was dashed after a phone call from a man to police around 12:15 p.m. (1:15 p.m. ET) saying there was a body “in a wooded area near his home in Garden Ridge,” city police Chief Donna O’Conner said.
O’Conner said responding officers “located what we believe to be the body of Leanne Bearden.”
“We will reserve any information regarding the cause of death until an autopsy has been performed,” the chief said. “Our thoughts are with the Bearden and Hecht families and (we) ask that you respect them in their time of grief.”
Bearden and her husband, Josh Bearden, had climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, gone swimming in the Dead Sea and attended an Indian wedding, among many, many adventures. Leanne Bearden documented their epic 22-month trek in a blog.
Then, in December, the couple returned to the United States, spending a short time in Georgia before heading to visit Josh’s family in Garden Ridge, just northeast of San Antonio, according to her brother Michael Hecht.
Coming back to her native country wasn’t necessarily easy, her family suggested.
“The pressure of transitioning from her two-year trip back into what we consider ‘normal’ life seems to have left her very anxious and stressed,” they said.
After she went missing, relatives and friends worked intently to spread the word as the search for her — on the ground and from the air, using helicopters — expanded. One such search, on one day in January, covered 23 acres.
Garden Ridge police noted their serious concern about Bearden that month, while adding “there is no indication at this time that (her disappearance) is criminal in nature.”
Her family, meanwhile, acknowledged on Facebook that “there is evidence that Leanne may have voluntarily left the area.”
Whether or not that was true, the family pleaded for the public’s help finding her given that — for all her travels — Bearden “is extremely vulnerable,” “is small in stature” and “her mental and physical status is uncertain.”
“We fear for her greatly,” her family said.