Editor’s note • After charges were filed in this case, this story was updated to remove the student’s name. The Salt Lake Tribune generally does not identify alleged sexual assault victims.
Police have arrested a man in connection with the five-day disappearance of a Snow College student.
The 19-year-old had been missing since Monday, when she was last seen leaving her college dorm room in Ephraim, Sanpete County, around 9:22 p.m. Police said they found her on Saturday farther south, in Wayne County, in the home of a 39-year-old man.
The man was being held on suspicion of obstruction of justice, aggravated kidnapping and assault, according to a probable cause affidavit filed Sunday in Manti’s 6th District Court. He has not been formally charged with any crimes.
“We don’t have a lot of information about him,” Snow College Police Chief Derek Walk said at a Sunday afternoon news conference. “We met him for the first time last night. We don’t know how extensive his relationship or her knowledge of him is thus far.
“This is an ongoing investigation. There are certain aspects we are still digging into and trying to understand fully.”
According to the affidavit, the student met the man in an online “chat group” and arranged to have him pick her up Dec. 13. Snow College security footage showed the 19-year-old leaving her dorm Monday night, wearing a white fleece jacket and a dark skirt and carrying a plastic bag. Her roommates at the central Utah school reported her missing when she did not return home the next day.
During the days that followed, according to court documents, the man became violent.
The man took the young woman’s phone, allowing her time only to text her family once on the morning of Dec. 14, court documents state. The affidavit alleges the man tied up the woman while he was at work, threw her phone away when he discovered police were searching for her, took her wallet, and “threatened her, saying if she left or told anyone about him, he would come after her family and sister.”
Local, state and federal law enforcement officers became involved in the search for the missing woman over the course of five days.
During the search, police used cellphone tower information to find the student in Loa, according to court documents.
Law enforcement officials conducted a search through the town of about 500 people. As police came to a house on Main Street, they saw a person with a slight build in the basement of the home, court documents state. A man — standing about 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds — answered the door and told police he was alone in the house, according to the documents. Police later searched the home and found the missing student in a basement coal room, covered in coal, the documents state.
On Saturday night, the school and the student’s family reported that the woman had been found.
“We got the phone call and [the police chief] said, ‘I have her.’ We dropped to our knees,” her father said. “We were so grateful, elated. We couldn’t describe the feelings that we had as we embraced each other.”
“We are so excited to have our Madelyn home,” the student’s mother said. “We love her so much and she has been such a light and joy in our lives. We are so grateful that we can continue our lives together with her.”
During his remarks, Snow College President Bradley Cook cautioned young people to be careful about online interactions.
“It reminds us of some dangers, especially our young people who are online,” he said. “You need to be careful. … We just have to be ever vigilant about those kinds of interactions.”
Candlelight vigils that had been planned for Sunday night on the Snow College campus in Ephraim and in the 19-year-old’s hometown of Kaysville instead became “gatherings of gratitude” after the student was reunited with her family.
“The ordeal that she has been through is dangerous and traumatic, the details of which we have only begun to understand. She is a fighter. She is now a survivor,” the woman’s uncle said Sunday. “We are grateful she is with us again so she can now recover.”
Editor’s note • The description of the possible charges outlined in the probable cause statement has been updated.