Adrienne Salinas case: Police say 'we cannot rule anything out'

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

APACHE JUNCTION, Ariz. – The search of the desert area where skeletal remains confirmed to be those of Adrienne Salinas resumed Friday morning, wrapping up several hours later due to extreme heat.

Discovered last week, the remains were officially identified by the Department of Public Safety lab on Thursday, several hours after officers from the Tempe and Apache Junction police departments teamed up with FBI agents for an extensive search operation.

Salinas, 19, had been missing for two months.

"We're heartbroken," Tempe Police Sgt. Mike Pooley said as he confirmed what investigators had believed since the remains were found.  "Our hearts go out to her family.  We're doing everything we can to provide them with answers."

"At this point in the investigation, we do not conclusively know Adrienne’s cause or manner of death," Pooley wrote in an email to media outlets Friday afternoon, after the second day of of the Apache Junction search concluded. "We will continue to work with the Medical Examiner’s office and other law enforcement partners, but we cannot rule anything out and we have not as of yet classified this case as a homicide. Clearly, we have and continue to place significant resources on this investigation.

"This is an extremely difficult time for everyone involved and we are committed to learn the truth regarding what happened to Adrienne Salinas and if it is determined to be a homicide, to bring the person or persons responsible to justice. "

The remains were found just southeast of Highway 88 and Lost Dutchman Boulevard on Tuesday, Aug. 6. A property owner made the discovery near a wash on his land near Foothill Street and Goldfield Road.

"Under the bushes, I saw the legs, called the sheriff's [office]," Dan Kelly said.  "I feel for the parents."

Those remains, which were in such bad shape that investigators could not visually determine if the body was that of a male or female, were sent to the Pima County Medical Examiner's Office in Tucson.

DNA testing confirmed what Tempe investigators had already considered -- that the remains as those of Salinas.

While there have been several searches since the remains were found last week, Thursday's operation is more extensive.

“The area where the remains were located has been searched several times since the recovery, but today investigators from multiple agencies will search an even larger area, much of it consisting of rough terrain,” Pooley continued. “Searchers will be looking for any evidence which may be related to the remains discovered.”

Aerial video from Chopper 3 showed dozens of people at a command post and more scouring the desert brush.

Police say they're focusing on a four-mile stretch along Weekes Wash in Apache Junction.  They're asking for information from people who live in the area South of Lost Dutchman, near Goldfield and Tomahawk.

"There are well over 100 people out here," Pooley told Rafols Thursday morning, explaining that the search area is massive. "We're looking for any kind of clues that might help us solve this case. ... This is hopefully going to be a key piece to this investigation. That's why it's important that we are out here ...."

Evidence investigators hope to find include clothing, jewelry and Salinas' cellphone.

Pooley said detectives do not know if the body was dumped in the area or if it was washed down in a recent flood.

Search teams were on site for hours Thursday, but wrapped up their operation for the day shortly after noon. Between the excessive heat and encounters with numerous rattlesnakes, the conditions for searchers were difficult at best.

Crews resumed their search operation Friday morning. It's not clear how long they will be out there.

Salinas vanished the morning of June 15. She was last seen in Tempe. Police say she was on her way to her boyfriend's house when she got into a wreck near Hardy and University drives. Her abandoned car, two of its tires flat, was later found there.

According to cellphone records, Salinas called a cab to pick her up at an AMPM. The driver said she was not there when he arrived.

Detectives eventually ruled out both that cab driver and Salinas' boyfriend as suspects in the young woman's disappearance. At this point, police do not have any suspects in the case.

Pooley said now that the remains have been positively identified as Salinas, investigators will go back and take another look at everybody, even those previously cleared.

"Nothing is off the table as we speak right now," Pooley told Rafols Thursday morning.

Police have been in contact with Salinas' family, keeping them apprised of these developments.

"Her family was notified last week when the body was found," Pooley said. "We've been in constant communication with them throughout the investigation, and we were talking with them again last night about what was going to be happening today."

3TV 's Javier Soto, who has covered this story from the beginning, spoke to Salinas' father, Rick Salinas, Thursday morning as the search was under way. Rick Salinas told Soto he was heartbroken and "too sick" for words. He declined to say anything more about the search.