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Bone Found In Sunken SUV Belongs To Indiana Mom Stephanie Nguyen, Missing Since 2002

Stephanie Van Nguyen disappeared in April 2002, along with her 4-year-old daughter, Kristina Nguyen, and 3-year-old son, John Nguyen. Her car was finally found in October.

Stephanie John Kristina Nguyen Pd

A bone recovered from an SUV submerged in a river last year belongs to an Indiana mother, whose disappearance has flummoxed investigators for nearly 20 years, officials said.

On Jan. 7, state police confirmed the human remains found in a green 1997 Nissan Pathfinder near Aurora, Indiana in October belong to Stephanie Van Nguyen.

Nguyen vanished in April 2002, along with her 4-year-old daughter, Kristina Nguyen, and 3-year-old son, John Nguyen. She was 26.

“Our hearts go out to the family that has dealt with having so many questions over the last twenty years about what happened to their loved ones,” Sgt. Stephen Wheeles, of the Indiana Sate Police, said in a statement sent to Oxygen.com on Thursday. “[We] are pleased that the recovered bone was able to be identified and we hope that this will help give the family some sort of closure.”

At the time, authorities found a suicide note that Nguyen had purportedly authored, indicating that she intended to drive her SUV and her two children into the Ohio River. Her vehicle, however, hadn't been located. 

In recent years, the Delhi Township Police Department initiated a renewed investigation into the missing mother’s case.

On Oct. 14, 2021, Hamilton County authorities — aided by divers and sonar technology — fished Nguyen’s submerged Nissan Pathfinder from the depths of the Ohio River near Aurora’s Lesko Park. The SUV, which was extracted using a tow truck, had sunk approximately 50 feet beneath the river’s surface. Its registration plate confirmed the SUV belonged to Nguyen. 

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Following the discovery — which marked the biggest break in the case in years — the Indiana State Police took charge of the investigation.

Four days after its recovery, a bone was collected from the badly deteriorated, rust-worn vehicle. Initial analysis by University of Indianapolis anthropologists indicated the remains were likely human. 

The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigations Laboratory ultimately confirmed the bone belonged to Nguyen. A fibula bone that contained mitochondrial DNA provided the positive identification, according to the Dearborn County Coroner’s Office.

“I am happy we were able to finally give Ms. Nguyen’s family some closure in this almost two-decade-long search for their loved one,” Coroner Cameron McCreary said in a statement this month.

No other human remains were found in Nguyen’s vehicle. Authorities said they’re planning additional dives near the site of the SUV’s wreckage in an effort to locate additional possible remains as soon as the weather improves. The case remains open and active. 

“We will continue to investigate the disappearance of these children in the hopes that we can provide some additional answers to this hurting family,” Wheeles added.

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For the time being, Nguyen's children remain listed as missing persons, officials added.

“After 20 years, law enforcement and the Nguyen family are one step closer to answers they have been desperately searching for," John Bischoff, Vice President of the Missing Children Division at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, also told Oxygen.com. "We applaud law enforcement for their tireless dedication, and we will continue to work with law enforcement and provide assistance as they continue their work to locate Kristina and John."

The identification of Nguyen’s remains came just three months shy of the 20th anniversary of the Indiana mother’s disappearance. Law enforcement, which compared locating Nguyen's bone in the wreckage to finding a" needle in a haystack," had previously credited advancements in sonar technology as a key factor in helping shed light on the cold case.

“I wanted to see if, with the improvements in technology and with things like that, we could beat the clock to the 20th anniversary, because everybody deserves to come home,” Delhi Township Officer Heather Taylor told KAKE last year. “Everybody deserves to be found.”

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