A 22-year-old UC Berkeley student who had been missing since January has been confirmed by authorities to have died in Marin County.
Two sets of bones found on a beach in April were recently confirmed to have been a DNA match for Shuqin Zhang, who disappeared about a week after New Year’s, authorities said this week. Police described the young woman at that time as “missing and at risk” and were concerned for her mental health based on reports that she had been struggling with depression.
Authorities began to look for Zhang in January after she failed to board a flight home to China, the Berkeley Police Department said at that time. On Jan. 9, authorities found Zhang’s 2012 white Mercedes and some of her possessions on a cliff near the Point Reyes Lighthouse. Despite an extensive search, no other signs of her were found.
Marin County Chief Deputy Coroner Darrell Harris said Wednesday that hikers on the shoreline at Drakes Beach on April 23 came upon some scattered bones they believed might have been human. They took photographs and sent them to park rangers three days later.
The National Park Service shared those photographs with the coroner’s office, said Harris. Representatives from both agencies met at the beach April 26 and hiked to the area where the bones had been spotted, about 2 miles southwest of the Kenneth C. Patrick Visitor Center at Drakes Beach.
Harris said authorities found parts of a human spine and sacrum mingled with animal bones, and collected the remains as evidence.
Three days later, April 29, the volunteer Marin County Search & Rescue team returned to Drakes Beach for a more intensive search, said Harris. They found a human femur partially buried on the sandy beach, and recovered those remains as well.
Both sets of bones were sent to the California Department of Justice DNA lab in Richmond to determine whether they had come from the same person. Lab tests showed they had, Harris said.
The remains were also sent to a forensic anthropologist at Cal State Chico, who determined that the bones had come from a young Asian female who was the same stature as Zhang.
Harris said authorities had previously determined, based on the currents and tides where Zhang’s car had been found, that “it was a possibility, if she were to have entered the water there” her body “could someday come up along Drakes Beach.”
Based on the forensic work and tidal information, authorities tested the bones against DNA provided by Zhang’s family, and found them to be a match, Harris said.
Due to the minimal amount of skeletal remains that were found, however, authorities could not make a definitive ruling on Zhang’s cause or manner of death.
But police have said there was no evidence of foul play, and that there had been concerns that Zhang planned to take her own life. According to the Marin Independent Journal, Zhang had failed one of her classes and was “despondent” before she disappeared.
According to information released in January by the Berkeley Police Department, Zhang had been a graduate student at UC Berkeley when she disappeared. She had been pursuing her master’s degree in statistics, according to her LinkedIn profile, which is no longer posted.
Police believed Zhang may have gone to Bodega Bay at 3:40 a.m. Jan. 7. No one heard from her after that.
According to a Facebook page set up by a friend to aid in the search effort, “Shuqin was last seen at 1:28AM at the 7-eleven on College Ave on January 7th. It is most likely that she crossed the Richmond Bridge at 1:52AM the same day.” Her phone later pinged off a tower at Taylor Street and Highway 1 in Bodega Bay.
After she disappeared, a friend described Zhang to Berkeleyside as strong and optimistic. She had recently been to New York with friends to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s.
The remains found on Drakes Beach have been released to Zhang’s family, Harris said Wednesday.
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Update: Police find car of missing UC Berkeley student (01.08.16)