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World traveler Leanne Bearden killed herself, autopsy indicates

By Greg Botelho, CNN
updated 12:19 PM EST, Sun February 16, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Leanne Hecht Bearden had recently returned to the U.S. after a 22-month global trek
  • She was last seen January 17, leaving her in-laws' house in Texas for a walk
  • Investigators believe she died shortly after leaving for that walk, police chief says
  • A preliminary autopsy finds she died by "asphyxiation by hanging"

(CNN) -- Authorities closed the case Friday on Leanne Hecht Bearden, the once intrepid world traveler who was found dead a day earlier, after having apparently killed herself, according to police.

According to Garden Ridge, Texas, Police Chief Donna O'Conner, "Preliminary autopsy results indicate asphyxiation by hanging."

The apparent manner of death is suicide, she added, though a final ruling won't be released until toxicology results are in.

Authorities announced Thursday that a body believed to be the 33-year-old woman had been found in Garden Ridge, where she was last seen January 17 heading out from her in-laws' house for what was supposed to be a one-hour walk. A man in that city northeast of San Antonio had called police after finding a body in a wooded area near his house.

Family members later confirmed her death, saying on a Facebook page dedicated to finding her that they were "understandably devastated."

"Leanne was a lovely and remarkable young woman," the family said, "and we will all miss her greatly."

An expansive intensive search commenced soon after Bearden was reported missing, while her relatives and friends hit the streets and airwaves to alert anyone they could about her case.

But -- after having crisscrossed the globe for 22 months with her husband, Josh Bearden -- authorities now believe that she didn't go far, nor was it very long, before she died.

According to O'Conner, investigators believe that Bearden died "a short time after she was seen leaving (her in-law's) residence for a walk."

"Our thoughts are with the Hecht and Bearden families as they grieve the loss of their loved one," the police chief said. "There are no words to express our appreciation to all the citizens, law enforcement. agencies, Texas Search and Rescue and Heidi Search Center for their support."

Bearden went missing shortly after she and Josh -- who married at the Denver Zoo and joked they epitomized the adage "opposites attract" -- returned to the United States from their epic, global adventure. She documented their journeys to places like Mount Everest's base camp, the Dead Sea and South America's Patagonia extensively on a blog.

Coming back to her native country wasn't necessarily easy, her family suggested.

"The pressure of transitioning from her two-year trip back into what we consider 'normal' life seems to have left her very anxious and stressed," they said.

After she went missing, relatives and friends worked intently to spread the word as the search for her -- on the ground and from the air, using helicopters -- expanded. One such search in January covered 23 acres.

Garden Ridge police noted their concern about Bearden that month, while adding "there is no indication at this time that (her disappearance) is criminal in nature."

Her family, meanwhile, acknowledged on Facebook that "there is evidence that Leanne may have voluntarily left the area."

Family: Strong possibility Bearden meant to leave

CNN's Vivian Kuo and Carma Hassan contributed to this report.

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