TRUCKEE, Calif. (KRON) — An intensive search effort for Kiely Rodni, a 16-year-old girl who went missing after attending a party in the forest, came to a somber end Sunday when six volunteers found her SUV submerged in Prosser Lake.
Rodni’s silver 2013 Honda CR-V was found upside-down under 14 feet of water. Adventures With Purpose’s six-man dive team confirmed that they saw a body still inside the vehicle.
On Monday, Nevada County Sheriff Shannan Moon told reporters in Truckee, “We recovered the vehicle last night. We believe it is our missing person. We have not been able to positively identify (her).”
Sheriff’s Captain Sam Brown said he cannot confirm nor deny whether any foul play is suspected behind Rodni’s death.
Rodni was reported missing on August 6 after she attended a party with 200-300 juveniles and young adults at the Prosser Family Campground in Nevada County. Her cellphone’s final ping was near Prosser Lake.
The teenager’s disappearance made national headlines, and her disappearance was investigated as a possible abduction.
For 15 days, the Placer County Sheriff’s Office, Nevada County Sheriff’s Office, FBI, Truckee Police Department, California Highway Patrol, and Placer County Fire Department poured numerous resources into finding the missing girl. Law enforcement officers searched an 80-mile radius from where the girl was last seen via land, ground, and water. Authorities spent nearly 20,000 man-hours searching for the girl.
It wasn’t until Saturday, August 20, that a volunteer group named Adventures With Purpose joined the search for Rodni. Less than 48 hours later, they found her vehicle and body, according to AWP.
The Placer Couty Sheriff’s Office wrote Sunday afternoon, “We were notified by volunteer search group Adventures with Purpose they have found a car and a body in the Prosser Reservoir.”
What is Adventures With Purpose? The Oregon-based private volunteer group is led by Doug Bishop and Nick Rinn, a certified diver who specializes in searching extremely cold waters with low visibility.
On Friday, August 19, Rodni’s whereabouts were still a mystery. Even after two weeks of “around-the-clock” searches by official law enforcement agencies, few clues had turned up. Sheriff’s deputies expressed frustration over teenaged witnesses who attended the party in the forest and failed to come forward.
Adventures With Purpose has thousands of online supporters and a popular YouTube channel. “There was an overwhelming demand” from AWP supporters calling for AWP to join the search for Rodni, Bishop told KTXL.
Within just the past two years, Adventures With Purpose said it has solved 23 cold cases, giving closure and answers to grieving families whose loved ones mysteriously vanished. They specialize in underwater searches.
Bishop and Rinn usually focus on solving cold cases, but they made an exception for Rodni because they suspected that her body was likely submerged in one of the Lake Tahoe region’s numerous lakes.
On Saturday, August 20, Bishop and Rinn set out on a small yellow boat equipped with sonar radar technology searching Donner Lake and Boca Reservoir.
On Sunday, August 21, the duo decided to search Prosser Lake, despite the fact that the Sheriff’s Office said it had already searched the lake with sonar “extensively.”
Bishop and Rinn’s decision proved to be a crucial break in the case. They spotted the teen’s SUV in Prosser Lake with a body inside.
During Monday’s news conference with reporters, the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office repeatedly gave its own investigators credit for their roles in finding the missing girl.
“We eliminated a lot of tips and information that was coming in. It’s important to understand that all of that work … lead us to this,” Sheriff Moon said. “Adventures With Purpose did a fantastic job locating the vehicle as quickly as they did based on a lot of the heavy lifting (by law enforcement investigators).”
“The points I really want to make sure our community knows is truly how committed we have been to coming to this resolution. Our commitment is to this family. The reason why we are here is because of the community support and the amount of work put into this investigation,” Moon said.
Sheriff’s Captain Sam Brown said AWP’s assistance in the case was never requested by an official law enforcement agency. Brown said, “I’m not sure any agency reached out and requested (help from AWP).” A Placer County Sheriff’s Office sergeant, however, shared information with AWP about which areas had already been searched.
“What did Adventures With Purpose have, that you guys didn’t have?” one reporter asked.
“Nothing is perfect. It’s complex and it’s tough. The lake was extensively searched. We had sonar, we had divers, we had swimmers. Tracking underwater is an extremely difficult thing to do. A lot of this equipment is expensive. You need expertise. We literally had people swimming in the water looking down. We are going to debrief and try to figure out how we can do better with these kinds of investigations,” Brown said.
The day before Rodni’s SUV was found, Bishop told KTXL that he hoped the 16-year-old girl was alive.
“This case, I can tell you, although we’re going to come in and we’re going to work really hard, I don’t want to be successful (with finding her body). I hope and I pray … that Kiely is found and found safe,” Bishop said.
The CHP is investigating whether foul play was a factor behind why Rodni’s SUV crashed into the lake, or if it purely an accident.
“We will do a thorough investigation,” a CHP officer said. “It can take time. The FBI is evaluating the vehicle. We also want to wait on information from the coroner’s office.”
A coroner will perform an autopsy on Tuesday. Toxicology results take 4-6 weeks to complete.
Many teenagers were drinking alcohol and using drugs at the August 6 end-of-summer party, according to the Sheriff’s Office. Friends who attended the party with Rodni said she was in no shape to drive.
“I know that she wasn’t in the right mindset or state to drive. And if she were to have driven, she wouldn’t have made it far,” friend Sammi Smith, 18, told a local news outlet.
“The party was only supposed to be open to those in the Truckee Tahoe region. But word got out to Grass Valley, Reno and the Bay Area,” Smith told KTXL. “It grew to be way, way larger than ever expected.”
Investigators are still not sure exactly when the Truckee teenager left the party, but she was last seen at the party around 12:30 a.m.
Rodni wrote her mother a text message stating that she planned on leaving the party within 45 minutes and would head “straight home.”
Her mother, Lindsey Rodni Nieman, told KTXL, “She sent me a text at around 11:30 (p.m.), telling me that she was going to be leaving at about 12:15 (a.m.) and coming home. And I asked her to wake me up when she got in. That was always kind of what we did. And she said, ‘OK, mama. Love you.’”
Statement from Kiely Rodni’s family
Kiely Rodni’s family released the following statement on Monday:
“Friends, Family, Law Enforcement, Media, and our Global Community: We are eternally grateful for the love and support you have shown us in the last couple of weeks. We have weathered a storm of unfathomable force, and it is purely thanks to the army of warriors, matriarchs, healers, and helpers holding us up that we continue to stand today. Mr. Rogers famously told a story of ‘looking for the helpers’ whenever he saw scary things in the news. We have not had to look for the helpers, as you have all come to our rescue in full force. We are forever indebted to you.”
“While we accept this sadness cast under death’s shadow, the rising sun shines light upon us, reminding us not to mourn our loss, but to celebrate Kiely’s spirit and the gift that we all received in knowing her. Kiely will surely remain with us even though we will not get her back.”
“There are certain occasions when words fail. Perhaps this is why our human nature has given us art, dance, and music, which all are often more effective ways to connect us to each other and our rawest emotions. Kindly excuse us as we retreat and dance privately to life’s song while we celebrate our daughter’s spirit and heal our souls. – In gratitude, The Rodni-Nieman Family.”