Douglas County authorities Friday identified a 23-year-old former Kansas University student, Yelekal Alemu, as the person whose body was found Thursday east of Lawrence.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to Mr. Alemu’s family who has been notified of his death,” said Sgt. Steve Lewis, a Douglas County Sheriff’s spokesman.
Alemu had been missing for nearly three weeks.
Lewis said Friday morning a Lawrence police officer who was conducting a follow-up investigation into Alemu’s disappearance found the body in a wooded area south of the Wakarusa River, near Douglas County Road 1057. Coroner’s investigators used dental records to make the identification.
“The investigation indicates there’s no foul play,” Lewis said.
Sgt. Trent McKinley, a Lawrence police spokesman, said Friday afternoon that officers had notified the Alemu’s family that a body had been found in the general area that Alemu’s car had been found. He last was seen alive on May 12.
“We have kept in contact with Mr. Alemu’s family on any leads that have come up (in the case),” McKinley said.
On May 14, Lawrence police asked for the public’s help in finding Alemu, who was last enrolled as a KU student last fall. He had been reported missing by friends on May 12 after he failed to show up for an important family gathering that weekend.
Police found his car undamaged southeast of Lawrence shortly after he was reported missing, and officers conducted several searches in that rural area east of Lawrence.
Senanem Gizaw, Alemu’s friend since kindergarten, said Alemu, who most recently worked as a cook at Buffalo Wild Wings in Lawrence, was smart and well-liked.
“Life of the party,” said Gizaw, in short, muted clips — at times barely audible, a couple of days before Alemu’s body was discovered. “People gravitated toward him.”
Alemu’s family — originally from Ethiopia — live in the Kansas City area, Gizaw said.
Gizaw was the last known person to see Alemu, who left their house near the KU campus early on the morning of May 12. When Alemu didn’t show up for the family gathering, his mother called Gizaw, expressing concern.
“I wasn’t really worried about it at that time,” Gizaw said. But after a few more hours, everyone became concerned, as Alemu being out of contact was “uncharacteristic.”
Gizaw made the police report, and later that night police — tracking Alemu’s cell phone — found his abandoned Toyota Yaris on private property southeast of Lawrence.
Zachary Luea, an area attorney who had been assisting the family, sent out a statement Saturday morning.
"The family appreciates the hard work and effort put forth by the Lawrence Police Department, the Douglas County Sheriff's Department and all other agencies who assisted in the search for Yelekal," Luea said.