Investigation ongoing in DSU students’ deathsIn a press conference early Wednesday morning, officials said they are continuing to investigate the deaths of three missing Dickinson State University students that were discovered in a vehicle in a stock pond Tuesday.
By: Beth Wischmeyer, The Dickinson Press
In a press conference early Wednesday morning, officials said they are continuing to investigate the deaths of three missing Dickinson State University students that were discovered in a vehicle in a stock pond Tuesday.
The approximately 10-foot-deep pond was on private property, officials said, and they are unaware of any relationship between the landowner and the girls. The residence was located about 1/8 of a mile north of the pond, officials estimate.
Tuhy said the 1997 Jeep was on its wheels in the water and vehicle doors and windows were all shut. It is unknown whether or not there was an attempt by the girls to exit the vehicle, he added.
“I did personally drive out there this morning about 2:30 or 3 to kind of view it driving with a pickup which is probably a little bit bigger than what the Cherokee was,” Tuhy said. “The viability, and of course it’s dark and when you’re not familiar with an area like that, it would have been very easy to drive into the pond.”
Tuhy said there were no high ridges around the pond and high grass was around the pond.
Kyrstin Gemar, 22, Ashley Neufeld, 21, and Afton Williamson, 20, who all played softball for DSU, were missing and last heard from Sunday night.
The women made two phone calls about a minute apart at about 11:18 p.m. Sunday, Dickinson Police Lt. Rod Banyai said.
Frantic noises were heard during both calls and the women were asking for help, police said.
Tuhy said the phone calls helped pinpoint an area of search.
“Without that, we’d probably be looking a long time and a large area,” Tuhy said. “We really didn’t know where to look.”
Officials found tracks leading into the stock pond at about 2:45 p.m. Tuesday. At about 4:10 p.m., the Dickinson Dive and Rescue Team discovered a vehicle submerged. The vehicle, which was Gemar’s, was pulled from the pond. At 4:29 p.m., the bodies of the three missing woman and a deceased dog were located and identified inside the vehicle.
“From what we heard before, the girls were probably out doing some stargazing,” Tuhy said. “It appeared the vehicle tracks led right into the pond.”
Officials said they are not suspecting any foul play.
Gemar is a native of San Diego and Neufeld is a native of Brandon, Manitoba, their parents said. Williamson is from Lake Elsinore, Calif., according to the DSU Web site.
Tuhy said if the girls had called 911, it is unsure whether or not they could have been found sooner.
“My understanding is had they called 911, and with the chip that’s in these new phones, if they had been new phones, there could have probably been some location formed out of that,” Tuhy said. “But if it would have been timely enough, I don’t know.”
It is unknown at this time whether drugs or alcohol were a factor in the deaths of the women.
“The information I’ve got, these were DSU students, well-known, well-respected girls,” Tuhy said.
The incident is under investigation and officials say an autopsy will be done, with results to be returned in a week or two. Tuhy said the North Dakota Highway Patrol will be examining the vehicle as well.
DSU President Richard McCallum said classes were canceled Wednesday and will be canceled today from 1 to 5 p.m. to allow for students and staff to attend a memorial service at 2 p.m. in Dorothy Stickney Auditorium in May Hall.
“This is a very sad day for all of us,” McCallum said Wednesday. “Our hearts and sympathies go to the families.”
Tuhy said he hopes the community can come closer together during this tragic time.
“The impact is going to be great for quite some time,” Tuhy said. “Anything like this happens in the community, the sorrow is going to be there, but hopefully, like a lot of other areas and what we’ve had in the last year, hopefully it brings the community closer together.”
— Press reporter Ashley Martin contributed to this story.