(updated at 6 p.m.) Fairfax County police are searching for a Kingstowne man charged with murder after his former girlfriend went missing.
Hannah Choi, 35, was last seen in the 5300 block of Jesmond Street in Kingstowne, where she and her ex-boyfriend Joel Merino lived together, police said.
Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis said this afternoon (Tuesday) the department believes Merino, 27, killed Choi in the house on March 5 and disposed of her body in a park in Prince George’s County, Maryland, based on evidence they uncovered at the home and in a vehicle.
“With an abundance of probable cause and an abundance of evidence, we worked with the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office and we secured these arrest warrants and now the search for Joel Merino is underway,” he said.
Obtaining the warrants before Choi’s body is recovered is something that maybe happens once in a decade, Davis said. The warrants charge Merino with second-degree murder and felony disposal of human remains.
Major Crimes, Cyber and Forensics Bureau Chief Maj. Ed O’ Carroll said Choi’s friends called the police March 6 to report her missing after she missed appointments and was not answering the door. “It was very unlike her and she could not be reached,” he said.
Police said the house was in order except for missing bedding. They then found the vehicle in D.C. that they believe Merino used, and discovered evidence indicating Choi was seriously injured before her disappearance, he said. The department is not releasing the specifics on the evidence.
“We know something bad happened, really bad,” O’Carroll said. “We have evidence and details that make us believe, firmly believe, without any doubt, that she is deceased.”
He said the two may have had an argument on Saturday, March 5. Police knew they were in the community together that evening.
Merino spent time the night after she was killed and into the morning in Piscataway Park, Davis said. Police and assisting agencies and teams have been searching the park looking for Choi, he said.
O’ Carroll described Choi as “a bright, caring, amazing young woman with the world at her reach.”
“This is tragic,” he said. “We are committed to finding Hannah and finding her killer. She is a victim of murder. For justice and closure we do need your help.”
Missing Endangered: 35yo Hannah Choi was last seen yesterday 7am in the 5300 blk of Jesmond St, Alexandria. She is 5’4, 125, blk eyes, bro hair. She has a tattoo of Chinese symbol on ankle. Unknown clothing. Endangered due to mental &/or physical health concerns. Call 911 w/info. pic.twitter.com/fDkpk1ekLx
— Fairfax County Police (@FairfaxCountyPD) March 7, 2022
O’ Carroll asked anyone who has information about her disappearance, knowledge of Merino’s whereabouts, or anything that could help with the investigation to contact the Fairfax County Police Department at 703-246-7800 Option 2, or to submit a tip anonymously through Crime Solvers call 1-866-411-TIPS.
Police believe Merino uses other aliases, and O’Connell said they did have information that he had fled at one point to the Atlanta area of Georgia in the last week. If anyone sees Merino, they should call 911.
Police said this is the sixth homicide of the year in Fairfax County, in comparison with three homicides at this point in 2021.
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