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Authorities work to identify remains found in Southern California

By the CNN Wire Staff
"It's incredibly treacherous terrain," says a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office spokesman.
"It's incredibly treacherous terrain," says a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office spokesman.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The family of a woman missing for nearly a year was at the site Monday
  • Mitrice Richardson was last seen in Malibu on September 17, 2009
  • Sheriff's spokesman declines to comment on reports remains belong to a female
  • Wife of missing man believes remains could be those of her husband

Los Angeles, California (CNN) -- Authorities in Southern California are working to determine if skeletal remains found Monday in a remote area of Malibu Canyon are those of a woman missing for nearly a year.

"It's incredibly treacherous terrain," Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office spokesman Steve Whitmore told CNN. "There is no road, no trail even if you know exactly where you are going."

Whitmore confirmed park rangers discovered "a human skull and some bones" during a search Monday for marijuana groves in the area, but he declined to comment on a Los Angeles Times report Tuesday quoting law enforcement sources as saying the remains are that of a woman and that "women's clothing was also found near the scene."

"Let the coroner do its job. ... We should know more in a couple of days," Whitmore told CNN.

At the scene Monday, Whitmore told CNN iReporter Julie Ellerton that "there's no apparent skin or clothing" around the remains and "it looks like it may in fact have been there for quite awhile."

CNN iReport: Skull and bones discovered by park rangers

The family of missing Mitrice Richardson have been waiting to hear whether the remains are those of their loved one.

Richardson, who would be 25 now, is a former beauty pageant contestant who was last seen leaving a Los Angeles County sheriff's station in Malibu during the early morning hours of September 17, 2009. She had been arrested the previous evening at an upscale restaurant for allegedly not paying for her meal, and patrons at the restaurant said she exhibited strange behavior.

Her family has said the college honors graduate suffered from mental health issues and should have been kept at the sheriff's station until a relative arrived to pick her up.

Rhonda Hampton, a friend of the Richardson family, said Tuesday that a local reporter told her that authorities "are not going to make any statements about the results that they have thus far until the lead forensic anthropologist makes a final determination."

Pam Perryman was also at the scene Monday, believing that the remains found could belong to her husband, Timothy, who went missing six years ago while on a hike in the area, according to Ellerton.

"I've been praying that we would find him because it's our anniversary this Saturday," Perryman said. "I just have a feeling ... in a way I hope it is him, in a way I hope it's not."

Hampton said the family of Richardson has had a difficult time getting in contact with the police for developments.

"If the information that has been leaked to the Los Angeles Times is correct, it's inexcusable that the family would have to find this out this way," she said.

Latice Sutton, the mother of Richardson, filed a lawsuit in June against the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office, accusing deputies of negligence in her daughter's disappearance.

Whitmore told CNN in September that the decision to release Richardson was made because "she was not intoxicated, she didn't exhibit any mental issues, so when we were done running her fingerprints and criminal history, then we are obligated by law to release her from custody."

Most recently, police have spent about six weeks checking out what they called a credible sighting of Richardson in Las Vegas. A high school friend of Richardson said he saw her at a hotel casino, authorities said. Detectives have talked to several witnesses since then who believe they have seen her in the area, they added.

Richardson's family has expressed doubts about the veracity of the Las Vegas sighting.

In a recent statement, Sutton said she "hopes this is not a diversionary tactic to redirect attention and efforts away from where Mitrice was last known to be last seen -- leaving the Los Angeles Sheriff's department, Malibu/Lost Hills station, without her cell phone, money, transportation, or asthma medication, which is where their massive search efforts and public plea should be concentrated."

CNN's Gabriel Falcon contributed to this report.