By Kim Palmer
CLEVELAND (Reuters) - Human remains found in a fire pit are those of an Ohio teenage girl missing since July, and a man charged with tampering with her dead body is also suspected of involvement in her disappearance, police said on Thursday.
The family of Alesha Bell, 18, from the town of Warren in northeast Ohio reported her missing on July 27, after she was last seen walking to her uncle's house four days before, authorities said.
Ashtabula County sheriff's deputies discovered human bone fragments in a fire pit on Aug. 20 while serving a search warrant along with Warren police on the property of James Brooks, 40, in the rural village of Roaming Shores, which encircles a lake less than 30 miles (48 km) north of Warren, officials said.
The remains have since been identified through DNA collected from her family, Ashtabula County Sheriff's Lieutenant Terry Moisio said on Thursday.
Brooks was arrested during the search of his Roaming Shores property 45 miles (72 km) east of Cleveland and charged with multiple felonies, including abuse of a corpse, tampering with evidence and drug trafficking, Moisio said. He has been held in jail since his arrest and has pleaded not guilty.
An attorney for Brooks could not be reached for comment.
Moisio said Brooks is a suspect in the disappearance of Bell, although he has not been charged with kidnapping her. The sheriff's lieutenant declined to say if Brooks is believed to have played a role in her death.
Police are investigating the disappearances of at least three other women in northeast Ohio, and when they took DNA from Bell's family they also collected DNA from relatives of other women, Moisio said.
Moisio said investigators were conducting more forensic testing, but he declined to say whether authorities were searching for more suspects in Bell's death.
"The investigation is ongoing and it is going to take some time," he said.
(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Richard Chang)