Elizabeth Salgado’s body found; three-year search becomes a homicide investigation

FILE – In this April 24, 2015, file photo, shows Edward Smart holding a photo of missing student Elizabeth Elena Laguna Salgado during a news conference, in Sandy, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

SPANISH FORK — A three-year search for Elizabeth Elena Laguna Salgado ended with tragic news that her body was found Friday, May 18, in Hobble Creek Canyon.

Police and the FBI provided details at a press conference Thursday, May 24.  Authorities said the circumstances surrounding her death — including the location near a road in a remote area — lead them to believe she was murdered.

Salgado, 26, didn’t return to her apartment after leaving Provo’s Nomen Global School in 2015. She had only been in the United States for three weeks at the time of her disappearance.

Police, the FBI and volunteers searched Provo and the surrounding area for years hoping to find the young woman alive. When the search yielded no results, authorities began looking for Elizabeth’s body instead.

The case generated a great deal of support and publicity. There was an outpouring of tips from all across the nation, but investigators never made any concrete headway. The investigation was even supported and aided by kidnapping victim and public figure Elizabeth Smart.

FILE – In this April 24, 2015, file photo, shows Elizabeth Smart holding a photo of Elizabeth Elena Laguna Salgado during a news conference, in Sandy, Utah.(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

Provo police confirmed the remains were found in Hobble Creek Canyon Friday after a man pulled off to the side of the road to relieve himself. The man, unnamed, but not a person of interest, walked off into the brush and saw what looked like a skull and some clothes, police said.

He called authorities, and deputies spent the remainder of Friday and all day Saturday gathering the remains. Dental records were used to confirm the remains to be Salgado’s shortly afterward.

“This is an active homicide investigation,” Utah County Sheriff Jim Tracy told reporters. “We will be following up and analyzing the evidence that we have collected, we will begin, and continue interviewing persons of interest.”

Until more information is available, Tracy said it is unknown exactly how or why Salgado ended up in Hobble Creek Canyon. The terrain is rugged and authorities never had any indication to search the area. Nor do authorities know how she died, although Tracy said the investigation has determined that she disappeared under suspicious circumstances.

When asked to specify the location, Tracy said the information is classified. The investigation is ongoing, so no names of any persons of interest were released.

Tracy said family members were contacted the night before the press conference, which is why the remains weren’t confirmed to be Salgado’s earlier. There are still family members in remote areas of Mexico waiting to hear any news about her.

FILE – In this April 30, 2015, file photo, shows missing student Elizabeth Elena Laguna Salgado’s parents Libertad Edith Salgado and Julio Cesar Laguna speaking during a news conference in Provo, Utah, after traveling from their home in Chiapas, Mexico. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

“While this was not the outcome that her family and our community was hoping for, the sheriff’s office, Provo City Police and the FBI continue to focus, now, all of our attention and resources on solving this case and bringing justice to Elizabeth,” Tracy said.

Provo Police Chief Richard Ferguson and Spanish Fork Sergeant Spencer Cannon also joined Tracy at the microphone.

While originally both Spanish Fork and Provo Police carried out the investigation, Tracy and the rest of the Utah County contingent became involved upon the discovery of Salgado’s body on Friday.

Salgado was last seen in April 2015 on Center Street in Provo. The young woman had come to Utah from Mexico to further her education. Ferguson said Provo Police have put thousands of hours into the investigation, and never gave up looking for her. At one point the FBI even traveled to Mexico seeking facts about her disappearance.

“Today’s press conference is not about all of our efforts in law enforcement. It is about Elizabeth, it is about her family, and it is about justice,” Ferguson said.

The investigation is not finished, Ferguson said, adding the respective authorities are dedicated to gathering every piece of forensic evidence and uncovering every fact.

Speaking to anyone who might have any information on Salgado’s death, Ferguson encouraged him or her to contact authorities. “Come forward now. Waiting will only bring the full force of justice against you.”

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