The family of Leah Croucher have said their hopes of finding her alive have been “extinguished in the cruellest and harshest of ways” after her body was found three years after she disappeared.
In a statement issued through Thames Valley Police on Thursday, the 19-year-old’s relatives paid tribute to the “bright, funny young woman” with a “smile that lit up the room”.
They said: “As a family, we knew this heart-breaking news would come one day. The news that Leah had been taken from us, from this world, forever. We are devastated that we have proven to be correct in this.
The world and our lives are darker for losing her in the prime of life
Leah Croucher's family
“The faint glimmer of hope that we all held allowed us to fool ourselves into believing that our assumption could have been wrong.
“The deepest, darkest grief that we, Leah’s family and friends are experiencing over the past weeks shows us that glimmer was actually, foolishly, a shining beacon of hope, which has now been brutally extinguished in the cruellest and harshest of ways. It has been a long way to fall back to reality.”
Last week police said human remains discovered in a loft at a house in Loxbeare Drive, Furzton, Milton Keynes, had been identified as the body of Ms Croucher, who went missing on February 15 2019.
Officers had begun searching the home after a tip-off from a member of the public earlier in October, and launched a murder investigation after the 19-year-old’s rucksack was found at the property.
Convicted sex offender Neil Maxwell, who is suspected of murdering Ms Croucher while on the run, died by suicide in April 2019 before police could catch him.
Eighteen attempts were made to arrest Maxwell while he was wanted, following an alleged sexual assault in 2018.
He was the only person with keys to the Loxbeare Drive house at the time of Ms Croucher’s disappearance, police said.
Ms Croucher’s family said they hoped she would “give Haydon a big kiss and a big hug” from them – a reference to the teenager’s half-brother, 24-year-old Haydon Croucher, who died months after her in November 2019.”Leah’s presence and warmth impacted on all who knew her, her disappearance has impacted on an entire city and beyond,” they said.
“We will soon be able to lay Leah to rest, as she deserves, and say our final goodbyes, be able to grieve at Leah’s graveside and lay flowers for her. We have missed Leah for so long already, and now have the rest of our lives to mourn her as well as the memories we will never be able to make.
“We were able to love you for 19 wonderful years Leah and make amazing memories together as a family, memories that we hope will be sufficient to carry us through the dark and lonely years we have to come.
“We hope soon that we will be able to look at pictures of you again, but they are too painful to even think about at the moment.
“Give Haydon a big kiss and a big hug from us baby, we miss and love you both so much, but hope that you are together now, looking out for each other as always.”