AURORA, Ind. — Authorities in Ohio have long suspected that Stephanie “Van” Nguyen had driven her car, with herself and her two young children inside, into the Ohio River.
On Monday, suspected human remains were found inside Nguyen’s green 1997 Nissan Pathfinder, which was pulled from the Ohio River last week by divers from the Hamilton County Police Association and the Indiana Department of National Resources. According to police in Delhi Township, where the case originated, the vehicle was located in the murky water in Aurora, Indiana.
Indiana State Police officials confirmed the find Tuesday.
“Anthropologists believe a bone recovered in the vehicle yesterday is a human bone,” Sgt. Stephen Wheeles said in a statement. “The bone will be sent to a lab for testing in an attempt to determine the origin.”
State police detectives began an investigation after the vehicle was found and determined to have belonged to Nguyen, Wheeles said.
Nguyen was 26 years old when she vanished April 18, 2002, with her daughter, Kristina “Hang” Nguyen, 4, and her 3-year-old son, John “Tai” Nguyen. According to the Charley Project, which tracks missing persons cases, Nguyen had expressed suicidal ideation.
“She left behind notes for her husband and parents saying her failed marriage had driven her to death, and she was going to kill herself and her children by driving into the Ohio River near the Grand Victoria Casino,” the site states.
The Pathfinder was discovered more than 8 miles upriver from the casino, which is located in Rising Sun, Indiana.
Nguyen and her children were last seen alive in Cincinnati on April 19, when a police officer stopped Nguyen for failing to dim her headlights. The stop was conducted near a boat ramp on the Ohio River.
“The officer noticed two children, presumably Kristina and John, asleep in the back seat of the vehicle. None of them have been seen since,” the Charley Project states. “An extensive search of the Ohio River turned up no sign of the Nguyens or their car, and it’s possible Stephanie faked her death and simply left with the children instead.”
Despite a lengthy investigation, including multiple searches of the river, no sign of the mother or her children was ever discovered. In 2012, after a decade missing, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children created age-progression photos to show what the children might have looked like at that time.
The case remained cold until earlier this year, when authorities reopened the files.
“With the advancements of side-scan sonar technology, the Hamilton County Police Association Dive Team and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources assisted Delhi Police in this investigation,” Delhi Township police officials stated. “Over the past six months, teams have been scanning the Ohio River, but it wasn’t until last week that three unique objects in the water were found that looked promising.”
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On Wednesday, the divers found a Pathfinder that matched the description of the vehicle belonging to Nguyen. The SUV’s license plate, ADH7739, was registered to the missing mother, according to Indiana State Police officials.
A towing service removed the vehicle from the river and towed it to a secure location, where state investigators and anthropologists from the University of Indianapolis have been helping Ohio authorities search it for signs of human remains.
Nguyen moved to the U.S. from Vietnam with her family as a teenager, the Charley Project site states. She worked as a nail technician and as a dealer on riverboat casinos in the area.
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