Nearly a month after she was first reported missing, police officers found the body of Santa Barbara City College student Brianna Denison on Friday almost eight miles away from where she was first abducted.
An autopsy by the Reno Police Dept. confirmed that the 19-year-old Denison, who was abducted from a friend’s apartment near the University of Nevada, Reno on Jan. 20, was strangled to death. Authorities are currently searching for a serial rapist, whose DNA was found at the scene of Denison’s abduction, Reno Deputy Police Chief Jim Johns said.
“The totality of the information in this case leads us to believe it is a sexually motivated crime,” Johns said at a press conference. “I’m worried this guy is still out there and I’m worried somebody else is going to get hurt.”
According to reports, Denison’s body was found in a field near a light industrial park southwest of Reno, though its discovery may have been delayed due to heavy snowfall.
Denison, a psychology student at SBCC and Reno resident, was staying with a friend who lived near the UNR campus the night she was abducted.
With regards to the suspect, in an interview with The Associated Press, Director of University Police Services Adam Garcia said campus law enforcement will do everything in its power to help detectives “in hunting this animal down and bringing him to justice.”
Denison’s former roommate this past semester, Ashley Dryden, an 18-year old SBCC student, said her friend was sweet and always congenial.
“She was so happy all the time,” Dryden said. “She was not confrontational. She was completely innocent. I just cannot believe this happened to her, out of anyone in the world.”
In the weeks after her disappearance, hundreds of Reno residents hit the streets to distribute fliers, while online, numerous Facebook groups swelled with each additional news report in an effort to find new clues concerning the case.
On their Web site, Denison’s family posted a statement on Saturday, thanking the community for its support.
“On March 29, 1988, Bridgette and Jeffrey Denison were given the incredible gift of their daughter Brianna,” the post read. “On January 20, 2008, she became the daughter of our entire community. … We want to thank the Reno Police Dept. for all of their support, the community of Reno, the devoted volunteers, searchers, the media and everyone involved in the search for Bri.”
“This is a difficult time. We ask first that every woman be diligent about their own safety and that each and every one of you protect the women and children in your community,” the post read. “We ask once again that if there is anyone out there with information, we beg you to come forward. Now is the time.”
According to the Reno Gazette-Journal, on Sunday, the brush-covered field where Denison’s body was discovered was dotted with flowers, candles and hundreds of mourners. As part of a memorial, attendees sprinkled rose petals over the area where her body was found.