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SUV found in Ohio River connected to mother, children missing since 2002

Published: Oct. 14, 2021 at 10:13 PM EDT
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AURORA, Ind. (WXIX) - A SUV pulled from the Ohio River Thursday night is connected to a 19-year-old missing person investigation from Delhi Township, Indiana State Police officials say.

The Delhi Township Police Department began looking into the disappearance of Stephanie Van Nguyen, 26, and her two children, 4-year-old Kristina and 3-year-old John in April 2002.

[LATEST UPDATE: Mother, 2 children presumed dead after SUV connected to 2002 missing persons case pulled from Ohio River]

The SUV removed from the Ohio River on Thursday that police say is connected to a 2002 missing...
The SUV removed from the Ohio River on Thursday that police say is connected to a 2002 missing persons case involving a mother and her two children.(Indiana State Police)

Nguyen was last known to be driving her 1997 Nissan Pathfinder, state police said.

Delhi police say Nguyen left a note that she was going to drive into the Ohio River but eventually the case went cold.

They say they revisited the case in 2021 due to advances in sonar technology and but it wasn’t until last week that dive teams found three items in the water.

Crews were in the river near Lesko Park in Aurora, Indiana for much of Thursday evening Efforts to recover the SUV began around 2 p.m.

“This is the proverbial needle in a haystack,” said retired Delhi Police Det. Bob Schwaeble.

Dive teams from the Hamilton County Police Association and the Indiana Department of Natural Resource, along with the assistance of Schaffer’s Towing, succeeded in pulling a Nissan Pathfinder from the water sometime after 10 p.m.

Indiana State Police say they were able to use the license plate to confirm the SUV belonged to Nguyen.

Schwaeble says Nguyen left her parents a letter after she withdrew money from her bank account all those years ago.

“Her parents returned from an overseas trip and found a note with that money, or a majority of that money, and large amount of jewelry,” Schwaeble said. “And in the note, it said, ‘to use this money and the jewelry to pay for the funeral for me and the children, that I’m going to drive into the Ohio River down by Grand Victoria.’”

Schwaeble says Nguyen was a dealer at the old Argosy casino. He says she was having marital problems and didn’t want her husband to have the kids.

“If she did, you know, intentionally drive the car in the river with two young children in the vehicle, certainly that’s foul play and homicide that she committed,” said Sgt. Stephen Wheeles with Indian State Police.

Delhi Township Lt. Joe Macaluso adds it’s too early to tell if the bodies of Stephanie, Kristina and John were in the car but that he’s happy he can give the family this new lead.

“This is been an investigation we have worked on for a long time. Two different detectives from Delhi have since retired. I’ve made them aware of the findings,” he said.

Macaluso says he recently spoke with Nguyen’s family.

”Right now, I think they were in probably a little bit of shock to the fact that the vehicle is found, and right now I’m sure they’re going through a range of emotions, as far as maybe some relief and maybe some sadness as a result of knowing their loved ones are gone,” he said.

Indiana State Police Investigators are now examining the SUV to determine if Nguyen or her two children were inside.

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