26-Year-Old Mother Missing Since 2002 Identified from DNA in Bone Found in Submerged SUV

Authorities say DNA testing has confirmed that a fibula bone discovered in a submerged SUV from the Ohio River in Indiana belongs to an Ohio woman who disappeared in 2002 along with her two young children.

Indiana Police confirm the bone, first discovered in October 2021, matches the DNA of Stephanie Van Nguyen, who was 26 when she disappeared nearly twenty years ago with her children, 4-year-old daughter Kristina and 3-year-old son John.

Police said Van Nguyen disappeared from the Delhi Township area of southwestern Ohio in April 2002, leaving a note that read she was going to drive into the Ohio River. However, police were unable to locate her care during that time. Police said the case ultimately went cold but decided to open it back up in 2021 using new technology.

In October of last year, dive teams in Indiana discovered a submerged 1997 Nissan Pathfinder SUV near Lesko Park in Indiana. According to the Indiana State Police, the vehicle description matched Vguyen's and the registration plate on the vehicle confirmed it. The car's discovery led to one bone, believed to be human.

Dr. Krista Latham and her team at the University of Indianapolis Anthropology Division took the bone for analysis before transferring it to the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation Laboratory for further research.

Stephanie Van Nguyen Discovered Remains
The submerged SUV was discovered in the Ohio River in October of 2021. The Clay Wade Bailey bridge, spanning the Ohio River between Cincinnati, Ohio, and Covington, Kentucky, from the Cincinnati side in Cincinnati, Ohio, on July 21, 2017. Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

Investigators were able to obtain mitochondrial DNA from the bone that allowed them to identify it as belonging to Nguyen, Dearborn County Coroner Cameron McCreary said in a statement.

He said Nguyen's children will remain listed as an open missing persons case since no other human remains were found inside the SUV. The case will remain open until the remains are located or the families file for court proceedings to have them declared legally dead.

"I am happy we were able to finally give Ms. Nguyen's family some closure in this almost two-decade-long search for their loved one," McCreary said.

After police in Delhi Township reopened the missing persons case last year, divers discovered the SUV with the use of side sonar scan technology in an area more than 50 feet (15 meters) below the Ohio River's surface and about 300 feet (90 meters) from the riverbank.

McCreary said that once the weather improves, authorities plan to make another dive in the Ohio River to search for additional human remains.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Birds sit on a semi-submerged car.
A leg bone and car was found 20 years after a woman and her children went missing after a note said she was going to drive into the Ohio River. Above, birds sit on the roof and hood of a semi-submerged car following a tsunami in Japan's Miyagi Prefecture. YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP/Getty Images