Police: Missing Mexican woman's body found in Utah canyon

FILE - In this April 30, 2015, file photo, shows missing student Elizabeth Elena Laguna Salgado's parents Libertad Edith Salgado and Julio Cesar Laguna speaking during a news conference in Provo, Utah, after traveling from their home in Chiapas, Mexico. According to the Deseret News, investigators confirmed Wednesday, May 23, 2018 that they have found the remains of Salgado who had been missing for more than three years. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)
Eric Lerohl, an FBI special agent, stands by as Provo Police Chief Richard Ferguson clears his throat while speaking during a press conference concerning the investigation of the death of Elizabeth Elena Laguna Salgado Thursday, May 24, 2018, at the Utah County Sheriff's Office in Spanish Fork, Utah. Authorities said Thursday Salgado's death is being investigated as a homicide after her skeletal remains were found in Hobble Creek Canyon, several miles from where she was last seen in April 2015. (Isaac Hale/The Daily Herald via AP)
Provo Police Chief Richard Ferguson looks to Utah County Sheriff Jim Tracy as he speaks during a press conference concerning the finding and identifying of the remains of Elizabeth Salgado on Thursday, May 24, 2018, at the Utah County Sheriff's Office in Spanish Fork, Utah. During the press conference, authorities confirmed human remains were found in the Hobble Creek Canyon area last Friday, and those remains were identified late this Tuesday as those of Elizabeth Salgado. Salgado, 26, went missing in April 2015, from Provo, Utah. (Isaac Hale/The Daily Herald via AP)
FILE - In this April 24, 2015, file photo, shows Elizabeth Smart holding a photo of Elizabeth Elena Laguna Salgado during a news conference, in Sandy, Utah. According to the Deseret News, investigators confirmed Wednesday, May 23, 2018 that they have found the remains of Salgado who had been missing for more than three years. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)
Utah County Sheriff Jim Tracy speaks during a press conference concerning the finding and identifying of the remains of Elizabeth Elena Laguna Salgado on Thursday, May 24, 2018, at the Utah County Sheriff's Office in Spanish Fork, Utah. Authorities said Thursday Salgado's death is being investigated as a homicide after her skeletal remains were found in Hobble Creek Canyon, several miles from where she was last seen in April 2015. (Isaac Hale/The Daily Herald via AP)
FILE - In this April 24, 2015, file photo, shows Edward Smart holding a photo of missing student Elizabeth Elena Laguna Salgado during a news conference, in Sandy, Utah. According to the Deseret News, investigators confirmed Wednesday, May 23, 2018 that they have found the remains of Salgado who had been missing for more than three years. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)
Utah County Sheriff Jim Tracy speaks as he stands with Provo Police Chief Richard Ferguson, center, and FBI special agent Eric Lerohl during a press conference concerning the investigation of the death of Elizabeth Elena Laguna Salgado Thursday, May 24, 2018, at the Utah County Sheriff's Office in Spanish Fork, Utah. Authorities said Thursday Salgado's death is being investigated as a homicide after her skeletal remains were found in Hobble Creek Canyon, several miles from where she was last seen in April 2015. (Isaac Hale/The Daily Herald via AP)
Provo Police Chief Richard Ferguson speaks between Utah County Sheriff Jim Tracy, left, and FBI special agent Eric Lerohl during a press conference concerning the investigation of the death of Elizabeth Elena Laguna Salgado Thursday, May 24, 2018, at the Utah County Sheriff's Office in Spanish Fork, Utah. Authorities said Thursday Salgado's death is being investigated as a homicide after her skeletal remains were found in Hobble Creek Canyon, several miles from where she was last seen in April 2015. (Isaac Hale/The Daily Herald via AP)

SPANISH FORK, Utah — The body of a Mexican woman who disappeared on her way home from her English language class in Utah three years ago has been found in a rugged, mountainous canyon area and police are investigating her death as a homicide, officials said Thursday.

The skeletal remains of 26-year-old Elizabeth Elena Laguna Salgado were discovered last Friday by a man searching for camping spots in an area popular for hiking, fishing and camping about 15 miles (24 kilometers) from where Salgado was last seen in downtown Provo, Utah.

Officials with the Utah County Sheriff's Office and Provo police told reporters the death is considered suspicious.

They said they are interviewing "persons of interests" who are not suspects but declined to offer more details.

Activist Elizabeth Smart has been among those publicly pleading for information about Salgado's disappearance. Smart was kidnapped from her Salt Lake City bedroom by street preacher Brian David Mitchell in 2002 at age 14 and held captive for nine months before she was found. Mitchell was convicted of kidnapping and raping Smart and sentenced to life in prison.

A medical examiner is trying to determine how Salgado died, officials said. Her body was decomposed after being out in the elements for what appears to be several years and she was identified through dental records, said Utah County Sheriff James Tracy.

The man who found her remains is not considered a suspect, officials said. They declined to provide the exact location of the discovery, but said it was a short distance from a road in a forested spot where it's rare for people to leave their vehicles.

Salgado was last seen on April 16, 2015, as she left a class to walk home in Provo, about 45 miles (72 kilometers) south of Salt Lake City. Salgado was from Chiapas, Mexico, and had moved to Provo about a month before her disappearance to study English shortly after finishing a Mormon mission in Mexico.

The discovery was devastating for Salgado's family, who held out hope she was alive, said Eloy Monge, consul for legal protection with the Mexican Consulate in Salt Lake City.

Most of Salgado's relatives live in Mexico and she was living with roommates in Utah when she disappeared.

Her family began a desperate search after losing contact with her. She usually talked with them every day. Her uncle Rosemberg Salgado has described her as an optimistic, spiritual woman.

Authorities were coordinating Thursday with the Mexican officials to notify Salgado's parents, who live near Tuxtla Gutierrez, the capital city of the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, Monge said. He said Salgado's brothers had been notified of her death.

Tracy said two of Salgado's uncles who live in California had also been told of the discovery. One uncle, Rosemberg Salgado, had been vocal in pleading for help finding his niece, who he described as an optimistic, spiritual woman.

Telephone and text messages left with Rosemberg Salgado by The Associated Press were not immediately returned. He told the Deseret News that he can't believe someone would kill his niece, who came to the United States to learn English, become a better person and get "married in a temple with a good guy," per Mormon traditions.

"Whoever did this, we are going to find them," Rosemberg Salgado said. "We will not stop until that person or people that were involved (are found)."

Officials characterized the discovery of Salgado's body as a lucky break following three years of investigation and hundreds of interviews. Deputies had driven past the location where she was found dozens of times in recent years, said Sgt. Spencer Cannon of the Utah County Sheriff's Office.

"We'll take any break, anytime, anywhere. Some days it's better to be lucky than good," said Tracy, the sheriff. "We're fortunate and thankful that this individual happened to get off the road and walk into the forest to make that discovery."

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