updated 11/4/2010 4:23:18 PM ET 2010-11-04T20:23:18

Investigators seeking the body of a college student who vanished nearly a decade ago resumed digging Thursday in a canyon north of Los Angeles where a construction worker is suspected of burying her.

Authorities began searching the wooded site after suspect Christopher McAmis said he used a tractor to dig a four-foot grave for the woman at what was then a construction site, coroner's Assistant Chief Ed Winter said.

Bones and clothing found Wednesday in Santa Clarita Canyon were believed to be the remains of Lynsie Ekelund, a 20-year-old Fullerton College student. DNA testing and X-rays will be used to confirm the identity.

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"So many people loved her," her mother Nancy Ekeland told the Orange County Register. "She didn't deserve to die by any means, at any age."

A message left by The Associated Press at a listing for a Nancy Ekelund in Brea was not immediately returned.

Lynsie Ekelund, who had been partially paralyzed by a car accident as a child, vanished after going to a San Diego club with McAmis and two other students on Feb. 17, 2001, investigators said.

McAmis was considered a person of interest in her disappearance but was not arrested until last week.

McAmis, 31, of Fullerton, was charged with murder and remained jailed without bail. He could face life in prison without parole if convicted.

"He said that he had murdered her 10 years ago," Placentia police Lt. Dale Carlson said.

McAmis told investigators he tried to rape the student and killed her during a struggle at his home, which was then in Whittier, Placentia police Detective Corinne Loomis told City News Service.

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Police have declined to say what led to his arrest.

The victim's mother told The Associated Press in 2003 that she had left her daughter's room intact, with posters on the walls and dirty clothes in the hamper. Nancy Ekelund also wrote a cookbook and raised $22,000 to reward anyone with information on the case.

She told the Register this week that at times she feared her daughter was dead but occasional reports that she had been spotted — the last one just six months ago — buoyed her hopes.

"People said they saw her, so I would think maybe she is alive and she wanted to start a new life," the mother said. "I think I hoped for it so much I believed it."

The mother plans a memorial service after her daughter's body is recovered and would like to help other parents in similar situations.

"I just want her memory to stay alive," Ekelund said. "I can't let this go down as an event that isn't a service to other people."

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