A Boone County judge heard statements Monday in the first day of a custody hearing for the daughter of a missing Columbia woman. The hearing was closed to the public.
Mengqi Ji Elledge was reported missing Oct. 9, and her husband, Joseph Elledge, is the subject of an active investigation into her disappearance, according to a probable cause statement. Elledge has also been charged with child abuse and neglect and is being held in the Boone County Jail on a $500,000 bond.
Joseph Elledge’s mother, Jean Elledge, filed for custody of his and Mengqi Ji’s child Tuesday. Mengqi Ji Elledge’s parents, Ke Ren and Xiaolin Ji, then filed their own petition for custody.
A probable cause statement from the Columbia Police Department states that Joseph and Jean Elledge attempted to leave Columbia with the child. On Sunday, Mengqi Ji Elledge’s parents sent a public statement to news outlets that mentioned the attempt to leave.
Over a dozen people gathered outside of the Boone County Courthouse, braving the cold and damp weather to show support for the maternal grandparents and the child. More than 100 people also signed onto a letter that was sent to Boone County Judge Stephanie Morrell, asking her to award custody to Mengqi Ji Elledge’s parents.
Amy Salladay, attorney for Mengqi Ji Elledge’s parents, said after the hearing that there was no resolution to the child’s custody Monday afternoon. When asked who currently had custody of the child, Salladay said she could not provide that information at this time.
“This family remains committed to finding out what happened to their daughter,” Salladay said. “They’re hopeful that more information is going to come forward, and they just want resolution.”
Ke Ren and Xiaolin Ji are from China, and in the Sunday statement the couple discussed how they had extended video chats with the child before their daughter went missing.
Ling Bunch, one of the organizers of the support group outside the courthouse, said the central issue was domestic violence directed against the child and the mother, citing the fact that Joseph Elledge was charged with child abuse and neglect.
Bunch said she was “a little shocked” by the turnout to the courthouse Monday afternoon.
“Saturday morning when I got up, I did not know any of this was going to happen,” she said.
Speaking for the people behind her on the courthouse steps, Bunch said they all want the child to be safe.
Bing Zhang, a professor at MU, is one of several people that has been trying to help Mengqi Ji’s parents while they are in Columbia.
Zhang said that the court will meet again at 9 a.m. Tuesday. He also added that the judge scheduled a three-hour period for Ke Ren and Xiaolin Ji to meet with their grandchild Monday evening.
The couple said previously they were not contacted by the Elledges to inform them that their daughter had disappeared. Rather, a family friend informed the family.
The Columbia Police Department also did not inform the parents, the couple said. Steven Sapp, spokesperson for the City of Columbia, previously said more context was needed.
“Mengqi’s parents, through Mengqi’s friends, were aware she had not been seen or in contact with family or friends before her husband reported Mengqi missing to Columbia Police,” Sapp said in an email. “Mengqi’s friends made the parents aware when police were contacted as they were the best medium of communicators due to language differences and their relationship to Mengqi’s parents.”
Supervising editor is Tynan Stewart.