Tempe Police Department / AP
Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013 | 9:04 a.m.
APACHE JUNCTION, Ariz. — Investigators who have had little luck in unraveling the mystery of an Arizona college student's disappearance two months ago came across their most promising lead when badly decomposed human remains with similarities to the missing student were found in a dry wash.
The remains haven't been formally identified as 19-year-old Adrienne Salinas, but police say there's strong likelihood that the body is hers.
"It's the best information we have so far," Tempe police Sgt. Michael Pooley said as dozens of officers searched the wash Thursday. "We haven't confirmed whether it's Adrienne, but if it's Adrienne, it will give us a starting point."
Until the body was found, police had little go on, other than cellphone records showing calls she made to her boyfriend and a call to a taxi company. Investigators searched a lake in Tempe, canvassed her neighborhood on multiple occasions and interviewed hundreds of people. Salinas' family handed out fliers in hopes of getting a break in the case.
The Gateway Community College student was seen by her roommates leaving their Tempe apartment in the early morning hours of June 15. She had packed a bag and told them she was headed to her boyfriend's home in Scottsdale.
The boyfriend showed investigators he had 11 missed calls from Salinas around 4:15 a.m. the day she vanished, along with a text message that indicated she was on her way to his home, according to a police report. The boyfriend said she never arrived.
The next day, police found Salinas' car about a block from her apartment. The doors were locked, the overnight bag she packed was gone, and there were no signs of a struggle. The car had front-end damage and two flat tires.
The police report said a woman told authorities she saw a similar car at about 3:40 a.m. the morning Salinas vanished speeding and moving erratically before it crashed into a curb, blowing out two tires. She said she pulled over and attempted to approach the vehicle, but the driver sped off. Pooley said the driver of the damaged car is believed to be Salinas.
Authorities say Salinas called for taxi from her cellphone at about 5:05 a.m. on June 15, but the arriving driver never found her, and her phone was soon turned off.
The human remains were found Aug. 6 in a sparsely populated part of Apache Junction on the eastern outskirts of the Phoenix metropolitan area.
On Thursday, searchers in a 6-mile-long area of the wash walked in a line, an arm's length apart, using shovels to look under sand and dirt that washed over the area in flooding from a recent storm. They're looking for clothing, jewelry, her cellphone and any other evidence, he said.
Investigators have recovered unspecified items from the wash that will be shown to Salinas' friends and family for possible identification.
Pooley said investigators believe the body likely was dumped in another location and was later washed downstream.
The body was found by a man who was walking his property and was drawn to the area by vultures he saw.
Police will contact residents who live in homes in the area about whether they heard or saw anything suspicious or had surveillance video.
"We don't know exactly what was left out here and that's why we're here," Pooley said. "... This is a big mystery."
Paul Davenport contributed to this report from Phoenix.