Body of missing world traveler Leanne Bearden found in Texas

CNN
Friday, February 14, 2014 - 11:26am

Authorities expect to complete the autopsy Friday for a Colorado woman who went missing in Texas last month after traveling the world with her husband, police said.

There will be no further updates in the case until the autopsy is complete, Garden Ridge, Texas, Police Chief Donna O'Conner said.

Leanne Hecht Bearden had recently returned to the United States after 22 months crisscrossing the globe with her husband, Josh Bearden. Police said Thursday her life may have ended in the woods near a home in central Texas.

The couple, who got married at the Denver Zoo and joked on their blog that they epitomized the adage "opposites attract," had traveled with just carry-on backpacks to some of the world's most rugged locations.

The couple's blog indicates they left in January 2012, traveling across the United States and visiting Canada before venturing on to Oceania, Asia, Africa, Europe and South America.

The trip included stops in New Zealand, China, Singapore, Myanmar, Cambodia, India, Rwanda, Egypt, Serbia, Ukraine, Lithuania and Bolivia. Bearden documented trips to a Mount Everest base camp, the Dead Sea, an Indian wedding, Tanzania's Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa's Victoria Falls and Serengeti, South America's Patagonia and Bolivia's salt flats.

Authorities announced Thursday that a body believed to be the 33-year-old woman had been found in Garden Ridge, where she was last seen January 17 heading out from her in-laws' house for what was supposed to be a one-hour walk.

Family members 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) Thursday, saying there was a body "in a wooded area near his home in Garden Ridge," 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."

The Beardens returned from their world travels in December, spending a short time in Georgia before heading to visit his 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 in January covered 23 acres.

Garden Ridge police noted their 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 -- the 5-foot-3-inch Bearden "is extremely vulnerable" and "her mental and physical status is uncertain."

"We fear for her greatly," her family said.

-- CNN's Vivian Kuo and Carma Hassan contributed to this report.

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