Few details were available on what took place inside the courtroom Monday during a custody hearing for the daughter of a missing Columbia woman, but the attorney for the child’s maternal grandparents said there was no resolution.

About 20 friends, relatives and supporters stood with signs on the courthouse steps in solidarity with Ke Ren and Xiaolin Ji, who are seeking custody of their granddaughter, 1-year old Anna Elledge.

Anna is the daughter of Mengqi Ji Elledge, who has been missing since Oct. 8, and whose husband, Joseph Elledge, 23, is in custody awaiting trial on a child abuse charge. He is also a suspect in his wife’s disappearance, according to court documents.

Ren and Ji filed for custody after Jean Elledge — Joseph Elledge's mother — filed for the same last week. Associate Circuit Judge Stephanie Morrell ordered the hearing Monday closed to the public and no further details were available in court records afterwards.

Neither Jean Elledge nor her attorney, Richard Hicks, could be located for comment. Amy Salladay, representing Ren and Ji, said there was no resolution during the hearing, but she could not comment on what took place inside the courtroom.

“Their granddaughter was being breast fed up until the day her mother disappeared, so they are very concerned about her health and safety,” Salladay said.

Jean Elledge was helping her son pack when Columbia police served a search warrant, according to police documents in the criminal case.

Salladay said Monday her clients believe Jean and Joseph Elledge have information about Mengqi Elledge’s disappearance, but are not being forthcoming with authorities.

“They need to provide more information about the day before their daughter disappeared, the day their daughter disappeared and since that time," Salladay said.

Her clients’ status as Chinese nationals has no bearing on the case, as they are in the country indefinitely, she said.

“My clients have the highest-level multiple entry visa,” Salladay said. “They have the ability to stay in this country, to leave and come back. I know that has been a concern that has been expressed, I don’t know how realistic that is. Their intent is to raise Anna as a United States citizen, they don’t want her to be necessarily raised in China.”

A group of 112 Boone County residents signed a petition addressed to Morrell imploring her to award custody to Ren and Ji in light of Joseph Elledge’s child abuse charge. Ling Bunch said many of those gathered at the courthouse were concerned with the child’s safety given the details of the case.

“This case started when the alleged child abuser’s mom filed for custody and we are here to stop that,” Bunch said. “We want Mengqi’s parents to have custody, we think that’s the best for Anna. We want Anna to be safe.”

No new developments have been announced in the Columbia Police Department’s investigation of the missing woman as of Monday. Police said Joseph Elledge did not report his wife missing until after a day-and-a-half had passed, and he took an extended drive through rural mid-Missouri during that time.

He remained in custody Monday on $500,000 bail on the child abuse charge. A bond reduction hearing is set for Wednesday in Boone County with Associate Circuit Tracy Gonzalez presiding.

Prosecutors charged Elledge Oct. 25 after a witness came forward. Photographic evidence on an iPad showed bruises on the child. A witness told police Mengqi Elledge sent her a message in February that there were bruises on her daughter’s buttocks and she suspected her husband had abused the girl, according to a police affidavit.

Following his arrest, Joseph Elledge admitted to abusing the child in February, according to the affidavit. He told police the girl would not stop crying so he pinched her. However, police wrote the bruising was not consistent with a pinch, but rather a strike.

ppratt@columbiatribune.com

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