By Verna Gates
BIRMINGHAM, Ala (Reuters) - A judge on Thursday declared dead Natalee Holloway, an Alabama teenager who disappeared more than six years ago during a graduation trip to the Caribbean island of Aruba, prompting an exhaustive investigation and intense media attention.
With both of Holloway's parents present in the courtroom, Probate Judge Alan King said he would sign the order to allow a death certificate to be issued.
"This is a tremendously sad occasion. Our hearts go out to Dave Holloway, Matt, Beth Holloway, and all the members of this family on this sad day," King said, referring to the girl's father, brother and mother.
Natalee's mother, who made public pleas to find her daughter, sat quietly on the back row as tears rolled down her cheeks. Her lawyer, Charles DeBardeleben said, "I hope this gives a little more peace for her."
Dave Holloway, who reluctantly brought the suit to declare his daughter dead, stoically sought to close the chapter. He said a death certificate was necessary to deal with the business of Natalee's life and health insurance, and her college funds.
The death declaration came after a Dutch man, Joran Van der Sloot, who was arrested but not charged in the 2005 disappearance of Holloway, confessed in Lima, Peru earlier this week to killing a woman in Peru. His sentencing could be Friday in Peru.
"We still have a long way to go to get justice. This guy needs to be off the streets," Dave Holloway said.
Van der Sloot is wanted in Alabama on a charge of attempted extortion. Prosecutors say he tried to get $250,000 from Holloway's family in exchange for information on the whereabouts of her body.
"I would absolutely like to see him back in the States. This is something you never get over," Dave Holloway said.
(Reporting By Verna Gates; Editing by Greg McCune and Cynthia Johnston)