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Autopsy Says California Teenager Kiely Rodni Accidentally Drowned: Sheriff’s Office

Two photos of Kiely Mai Rodni.

Kiely Mai Rodni appears in images released by the FBI (left) and the local sheriff’s department (right).

A California teenager who was last seen alive at a party in the Tahoe National Forest in August accidentally drowned, investigators said Thursday.

Kiely Mai Rodni was found dead in her submerged SUV on Aug. 21, 15 days after she was reported missing.

The petite and blonde 16-year-old’s disappearance drew broad attentions for true-crime sleuths as well as a widespread search effort that had hundreds of volunteers scouring thousands of acres of northern California and into Nevada, as her hometown is about 15 miles from the state border. The FBI joined the investigation, and authorities pointed to Rodni’s missing vehicle when saying she may have been abducted.

Divers found Rodni 2013 Honda CRV upside down in Prosser Reservoir, submerged in 12-14 feet of water. Then they fueled the intense speculation surrounding the girl by posting a 47-minute YouTube video titled, “How We FOUND Kiely Rodni: MURDER or ACCIDENT?” In it, they said two of the SUV’s windows were either down or broken, which they said suggested something “suspicious” had occurred. Though if Rodni had accidentally driven her car into the water, she may have opened or broken the windows trying to escape.

An autopsy report released Thursday determined her cause of death as drowning. It says her body was found in the rear cargo compartment of the SUV, with her right leg “against the pillar of the back seat and resting near the headrest.”

“The remainder of the decedent was behind the seats and not visible from outside the vehicle,” according to the report. Her body was bloated, livid and decomposing, so much that it couldn’t be identified “due to the decomposition present on the face.” There were no signs of significant external or internal injuries.

The coroner’s division of the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office ruled her death an accident.

“This ruling is based on the pathologist’s finding that her death was the result of drowning and that there was no other information to suggest she was the victim of foul play,” according to a press release. Investigators are working with Rodini’s family and “evaluating any additional information related to this investigation,” the statement continued.

Rodni lived in Truckee, about 12 miles northwest of Lake Tahoe. Her family has not yet addressed the findings, but they released a statement after her body was found saying they wanted to “celebrate Kiely’s spirit and the gift that we all received in knowing her.”

“Kiely will surely remain with us even though we will not get her back. There are certain occasions when words fail. Perhaps this is why our human nature has given us art, dance, and music, which all are often more effective ways to connect us to each other and our rawest emotions. Kindly excuse us as we retreat and dance privately to life’s song while we celebrate our daughter’s spirit and heal our souls,” the statement said.

(Images: FBI and local sheriff’s office)

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A graduate of the University of Oregon, Meghann worked at The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, and the Idaho Statesman in Boise, Idaho, before moving to California in 2013 to work at the Orange County Register. She spent four years as a litigation reporter for the Los Angeles Daily Journal and one year as a California-based editor and reporter for and associated publications such as The National Law Journal and New York Law Journal before joining Law & Crime News. Meghann has written for The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Los Angeles Magazine, Bloomberg Law, ABA Journal, The Forward, Los Angeles Business Journal and the Laguna Beach Independent. Her Twitter coverage of federal court hearings in a lawsuit over homelessness in Los Angeles placed 1st in the Los Angeles Press Club's Southern California Journalism Awards for Best Use of Social Media by an Independent Journalist in 2021. An article she freelanced for Los Angeles Times Community News about a debate among federal judges regarding the safety of jury trials during COVID also placed 1st in the Orange County Press Club Awards for Best Pandemic News Story in 2021.