Juab County officials said Tuesday they now “strongly” suspect foul play in connection with two teens who were reported missing Jan. 2.
The couple, 18-year-old Riley Powell and 17-year-old Brelynne “Breezy” Otteson, left Tooele about 9:30 a.m. Dec. 30 with plans to head to Eureka, where they share a home, family members have said, but the teens never arrived.
The Jeep they were riding in was located Thursday in a remote location.
The Juab County Sheriff’s Office said Tuesday that the circumstances surrounding the recovery of the Jeep — specifically its condition and general placement — are “highly suspicious,” leading investigators to believe the vehicle had been intentionally abandoned by someone other than the two missing teens.
“Foul play is strongly suggested,” the news release said.
“Investigators are still working hard to locate Riley and Breezy,” according to the release. But due to recent developments in the investigation, police have suspended search and rescue efforts.
Otteson’s aunt Amanda Hunt grew emotional Tuesday when asked for the family’s reaction to the news that foul play is now suspected. “It has just been hard on the family,” Hunt said. “At this time, we appreciate anyone that’s helped.”
She said family members are committed to finding the teens and hope for “the best outcome.”
“The kids are still out there,” she said. “In our eyes, there’s still hope.”
A team of investigators from four law enforcement agencies is working to find Otteson and Powell, the sheriff’s office said.
An aerial search crew spotted the Jeep on Thursday near Cherry Creek Road, about half a mile southwest of Cherry Creek Reservoir in an area hidden by trees and “out of sight of the roadway,” an earlier release from the sheriff’s office said. A post on the Facebook page “Searching for Breezy and Riley” said that all the Jeep’s windows had been rolled down and two of its tires were flat.
Cherry Creek Reservoir lies about 14 miles southwest of Eureka.
Deputies used cadaver dogs to search the site where the Jeep was found, but there was “no sign” of the teens, a news release said. They originally said there were no signs of foul play, either.
Officers from Juab County and other agencies continued their search of the Cherry Creek area after the initial discovery of the vehicle, and they utilized civilian search parties to help with combing through the area.
County officials did not specify in the most recent news release what exactly had heightened their suspicions of foul play, and wrote that no further details were being released at this time.
Family members don’t have many more details than what was written in the release, Hunt said. Other than the location of the Jeep, they don’t know what led investigators to classify the circumstances as suspicious, she said. They don’t know who else might be involved or what could have happened to their loved ones.
Family members have offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the location and recovery of the missing teens.