Volunteers found missing California teen Kiely Mai Rodni, 16, in the back of her own sport utility vehicle under 14 feet of water in a reservoir, members of the search and rescue effort said in a YouTube video. The front passenger side window of the vehicle was either “down” or “broken out,” and the rear driver side window was about half open, the video footage indicated. The recording suggested that Rodni’s body was mostly positioned toward the rear passenger side of the vehicle.
Those elements of the case — the open windows, the location of the body in rear of the vehicle — suggested to the search team in that moment that something “suspicious” had occurred, they indicated in the recording.
Significant portions of the more than 47-minute video were filmed as the vehicle was being found and looked over by members of Adventures with Purpose, a squad of volunteer searchers who pitched in to help with the lengthy but previously fruitless efforts to locate the missing teen.
In the recording, Doug Bishop, a member of the team, showed and described the underwater scanning technology that helped him locate what at first he suspected was either a vehicle or a boat. He then dropped a probe into the water to gauge the size of the object.
A diver suited up, descended to the vehicle, quickly confirmed it was Rodni’s SUV based on the clearly visible license plate, and ascertained after slowly but methodically looking through the windows that human remains were, indeed, inside.
“She’s in the back of the vehicle,” diver Nick Rinn said upon returning topside. “She’s not in the driver’s seat. It looks suspicious to me. The vehicle’s upside down, some of the — one window’s halfway down. One window is all the way down.”
The team called Rodni’s family first. Then it called the authorities.
Rodni’s father was seen on video asking how official searchers could possibly have missed the vehicle after 19,000 man hours.
The father seemed shocked to learn that his daughter’s remains were in the back of her SUV and not in the driver’s seat.
The video later shows the recovery of the vehicle from the water. A winch attached to a tow truck was employed in those efforts.
Adventures with Purpose found Rodni’s SUV on Aug. 21. Formal identification of her remains occurred the day after after law enforcement authorities said on Aug. 22 that they “believe[d]” the remains were Rodni’s.
The unofficial investigation, however, did not end there.
Earlier in the recording, Adventures with Purpose showed an on-camera interview with a man identified only as “Nick.” He told the search team that he worked for a roadside assistance company. He claimed he encountered a female he believes was Rodni during a bizarre call for an alleged dead battery at Boca Lake. That lake is a separate body of water north of the the Prosser Creek Reservoir where Rodni was found dead.
Nick, the roadside assist employee, told Adventures with Purpose the true issue with the vehicle wasn’t a dead battery — it was that the vehicle’s gear shift was in neutral. That, he indicated, interfered with the driver’s ability to start the vehicle.
The fix was easy, but the interaction left him seemingly baffled.
He said the girl he believes was Rodni asked him a “weird” question about how to attach her seatbelt correctly and whether it could be connected “to her actual belt.”
Nick indicated that the girl was wearing a light gray sweatshirt. He also said that she was with a “guy” with a thin build and brown hair slightly protruding beyond the edges of a black San Francisco baseball cap. The hat was facing forward the individual’s on his head. The “guy” was wearing a white “bro” tank top and had acne or freckles on both sides of his face. Nick described the individual in question as slightly shorter than him; Nick identified his own height as 6’3″.
The roadside assistance employee said the female who he believes was Rodni indicated that her phone was dead. She was believed to have used the other individual’s phone to call for help; the roadside assistance employee said he attempted to reach her but could not while he was en route to the scene.
Nick also seemed to suggest that the vehicle he was called to rescue was Rodni’s SUV.
He described both individuals as being in a state of “unease” during his interaction with them, which he said occurred somewhere in the 11:00 a.m. to noon time frame on Saturday, Aug. 6 or Sunday, Aug. 7. The on-camera interview suggested Nick was trying to recall details from memory — he said he was in the area answering service calls on both days — and that he either did not have or could not disclose company records that would pinpoint the date and time of the call.
Rodni vanished in the overnight hours between that Saturday and Sunday, so if records show the sighting occurred on Sunday, then it could be an explosive piece of evidence.
Timeline aside, the interactions Nick says he observed left him puzzled.
“Either they had a crazy night or a crazy day,” Nick said of the duo he encountered.
He then said the girl and the male individual she was with appeared to have had a “rough day,” were “distressed,” or were possibly “hung over.”
Nick said the girl he believes was Rodni tried to distance herself physically from the male individual. For instance, Nick said the girl would move from one side of the car to the other during his time at the scene as if to create space between herself and the male.
Nick also told Adventures with Purpose that his roadside assistance service vehicle contained front-facing and rear-facing cameras and microphones that would have captured the interaction. He said he makes a habit to aim his vehicle so that his interactions would be recorded for his own safety. He said formal records would be in the custody of his employer.
Nick left the scene before the girl and the male she was with departed, he told Adventures with Purpose.
Nick said he came to realize he’d encountered Rodni when he later saw missing posters containing her image at a coffee shop.
He also indicated that he had spoken with detectives about his observations.
The locus of the search was near Truckee, California. Truckee is about 35 minutes southwest of Reno, Nevada, and sits along Interstate 80.
In a since-deleted missing poster, the FBI said Rodni “attended a large party” at the Prosser Lake Campground and was last seen on Aug. 6, 2022, at approximately 12:30 a.m. Around that time, she texted her mother that she would be leaving the party.
“Her vehicle, a 2013 silver Honda CRV with license plate 8YUR127, is also missing,” the FBI indicated at the time. “Kiely was last seen wearing a black spaghetti-strap bodysuit, green Dickies brand pants with a black grommet belt, and black Vans brand shoes. She was in possession of a dark gray Lana Del Ray hoodie.”
Hundreds of people were said to have been at the party from which Rodni vanished.
Adventures with Purpose has described its technology as “cutting edge,” and the local constabulary whose efforts came up short eventually met with the group to learn about the equipment should future uses become necessary.
“This is an ongoing investigation, and no other information is available at this time,” the Nevada County, California Sheriff’s Office said in its most recent online update about the case.
The video of the discovery and of the interview with “Nick” is embedded below:
[Editor’s note: this piece has been updated to clarify that the diver said only that Rodni’s body was in the “back” of her vehicle. It originally suggested the body was in the back seat based on several areas of the video that were blurred for privacy reasons, but the diver did not state precisely where in the “back” of the vehicle the remains were located.]
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