Loved ones of a Missouri woman who disappeared months ago discovered the decomposing body of a missing man during one of their many searches for the young woman, police said.
Family members and volunteers were searching a Kansas City creek bed for any sign of 21-year-old Jessica Runions, when they uncovered the body of a man police have since identified as Brandon Herring, officials said.
It was not yet clear how the 21-year-old Raytown man died, but authorities are investigating the death as a homicide, a Kansas City police spokesperson said.
Authorities were also working to determine how long Herring’s body had been there.
Herring was last seen alive on November 22, at which time his mother said she spoke with him.
"He was just going, hanging out with friends," Rhonda Herring told InsideEdition.com. "I always said 'well God, take him away safely and bring him back safe.' This time, people made other choices for us."
She told her son — known as ‘Mac Bear’ by those who knew him — that she loved him and he said it in return. She never heard from him again.
Two days later, when he didn’t come home for Thanksgiving dinner, the family realized something was very wrong, his mother said. Saturday’s discovery confirmed the family’s worst fears.
“I already knew my son had already gone home to God... but the selfish part of me just wanted confirmation and closure,” Rhonda Herring said.
"I’m okay; I’ve still have my son with me,“ she continued, saying her son leaves behind an infant son of his own.
Herring's child, King, will turn two months old on February 7, and with each passing day, he looks more and more like his father, she said.
"He was so excited,” Rhonda Herring said of her son. “He was getting ready for the baby. He never got to see his son. “
A memorial service for Herring will be held at 3 p.m. Friday at Watkins Brothers Memorial Chapel in Kansas City, his mother said, noting the day is meant to be a celebration of her son’s life.
"He was a very loving, caring, person; he’d do anything in the world for you," she said. "He had goals — he and his cousin wanted to do music. And he just wanted to take care of his family. We’re all hurting right now."
Tributes to Herring poured out on social media from loved ones who were devastated by the loss.
"This s*** hurts me to my f****** core... bro I love you so, so, so much man!” one friend wrote on Facebook.
“I can’t believe you’re really gone!” another friend posted. “I’m so going to miss your awesome smile! You were such a sweet loving and very respectful young man!!… This should NOT have happened to you!!”
Runions’s father and his cousin discovered the body, covered in debris and face up in the creek, about 12 feet from the road, the Kansas City Star reported.
“I knew right off the bat when I saw the person that it wasn’t her,” John Michael Runions, the missing young woman’s father, told the paper.
Jessica Runions was last seen alive when she left a group of friends in South Kansas City about 9:30 p.m. on September 8, police said.
Her burned vehicle was found in a nearby wooded area two days later, but Runions was nowhere to be found.
One day later, 28-year-old Kylr Yust was arrested and charged with knowingly burning Runions’s car, cops said.
Yust was previously questioned in the 2007 disappearance of his on-and-off again girlfriend, Kara Kopetsky, according to the Kansas City Star.
“So life hasn’t been the greatest for me lately, over the last 9 months of my life iv(sic) dedicated my life to kylr... I made no other time for any of my friends nor my family," Kopetsky wrote in a April 24, 2007 post to MySpace. "Over those 9 months i forgot the person that I was. im trying to find that person again."
Kopetsky filed for an order of protection against Yust days before she went missing on May 4, 2007.
Yust has been in and out of the court system on allegations of killing cats, abusing girlfriends and stealing from a tattoo parlor, the Star reported.
He pleaded guilty in 2011 to assault after choking a pregnant girlfriend, online court records show.
The woman, then 18 and apparently 7 1/2 weeks pregnant with twins, reportedly told police that he dragged her by her hair to their bedroom, where he repeatedly choked her until she almost lost consciousness and then would punch her to keep her from passing out.
She also told police that six weeks earlier she had come home from work and found Yust in the bathroom holding a kitten, which he repeatedly slammed to the floor and then beat to death after locking her out of the room, the Star wrote.
He was charged with assault in connection to the attack on the young woman, for which he received two years' probation. Court records show his probation later was revoked and he was sentenced to 180 days in jail, but he ultimately served 120.
In 2013 he was sentenced to 45 months in federal prison on a drug trafficking charge after he was found guilty of receiving a shipment of designer drugs from China, the Star reported. He was released earlier this year.
Yust has never been charged in Kopetsky’s disappearance and has not been charged in connection to Runions’ disappearance, either, officials said.
Family and friends reportedly search for Jessica Runions on an almost weekly basis, and Saturday’s discovery has only reinforced their resolve to continue looking, her father said.
“I told everybody that this should be motivation that what we are doing is good,” John Michael Runions said. “We may not have found Jessica, but somebody else’s family is going to get some answers.”
The next time the Runions go out looking for their daughter and sister, they can count on a few more people to help in the search: The Herrings.
“They were looking for their daughter and they found my son. I let her [family] know I very much appreciated that and I’ll be there to help them look for her," Rhonda Herring said. "It doesn’t stop here."
Anyone with information on either Herring's death or Runions' disappearance is asked to call Kansas City Police's TIPS Hotline at 816-474-8477(TIPS).