FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. (FOX 5 DC) - Fairfax County police have charged a man with second-degree murder after his live-in former girlfriend has been missing for more than a week, officials announced Tuesday afternoon.
Hannah Choi, 35, was last seen on March 5 at 7 a.m. in the 5300 block of Jesmond Street in the Alexandria section of Fairfax County.
Police believe Joel Merino killed Choi inside the Alexandria home they shared and have charged him with second-degree murder and felony disposal of a body.
Police have served the murder warrant without the recovery of the victim, and they are actively searching for Merino. Police are also actively looking for Choi's body, which they believe was disposed of in a park in Prince George's County.
"Unfortunately, we were not met with success so we continue to review evidence to potentially identify areas to search," said Major Ed O’Carroll. "This is tragic. My deepest condolences to Hannah’s family, her friends, and our community. We are committed to finding Hannah and her killer."
Police found evidence that created "an abundance of probable cause" that led to the arrest warrants for Merino.
FOX 5’s Sierra Fox asked Major Ed O’Carroll what specific evidence they have in order to get arrest warrants and charge Merino with second-degree murder.
"A bodyless case is not overly common, and I can’t jeopardize this case not making it into the courtroom and us getting a conviction," Carrol said. "My remarks are clear there’s an abundance of evidence and facts in this case that lead us into this decision."
According to investigators, Choi and Merino lived together on Jesmond Street in Fairfax County. A neighbor gave FOX 5 surveillance footage showing the police presence.
The next day, loved ones checked on her, and she didn’t answer. Choi also missed several appointments which we’re told is unlike her. When police searched Choi’s home, they found bedding missing from her bedroom.
After talking to family and friends, detectives believe Choi and Merino may have gotten into an argument before she was killed. Here’s how they described her to police:
"Loving, caring, sweet, and did absolutely nothing wrong. She’s a victim of violence," said Major Ed O’Carroll.
FOX 5's Sierra Fox spoke with Choi’s neighbor, Darrell Marshall, from his ring doorbell camera since he was at work. He says from what he could see they were a nice couple, so this is unexpected.
"I’m really disappointed," said Marshall. "It’s just really devastating; it’s really devastating to hear what took place. It’s sad."
Police believe Merino fled Virginia. He was last seen in Atlanta, Georgia, and authorities think he may have changed his name. FOX 5 attempted to reach out, but contact information for him wasn’t available.
Merino has no criminal history and police had no record of calls for service to Choi’s home.
After the press conference, FOX spoke with a woman who mentioned she was a friend of Choi. She said she and the family were holding onto hope until now, and they’re having a hard time wrapping their heads around this tragic incident.
Detectives are asking anyone who may have information on this case to contact them at 703-246-7800. Tips can also be submitted anonymously through Crime Solvers by phone at 1-866-411-TIPS (866-411-8477), by text by typing "FCCS" plus tip to 847411, and by web.