Bone found in submerged SUV belongs to Ohio mom who vanished with kids in 2002

AURORA, Ind. — A single bone found in the submerged SUV of an Ohio woman who vanished with her children in 2002 has been positively identified, authorities said.

The leg bone found in Stephanie “Van” Nguyen’s green 1997 Nissan Pathfinder, which was pulled Oct. 14 from the Ohio River, has been identified through mitochondrial DNA as belonging to the missing mother. According to police in Delhi Township, where the case originated, the vehicle was located in the murky water in Aurora, Indiana.

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No remains of her daughter, Kristina “Hang” Nguyen, 4, or her 3-year-old son, John “Tai” Nguyen, were found inside the vehicle, according to the Dearborn County Coroner’s Office.

“Since no other remains were located within the vehicle, the children will still be listed as an open missing persons case unless remains are located or if the family files through the court to have them declared legally deceased,” Coroner Cameron McCreary said in a statement.

Nguyen was 26 years old when she vanished April 18, 2002, with her children. 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.

Delhi Township police officials said the SUV rested about 300 feet from the riverbank, under about 53 feet of water.

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.

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“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 & Exploited Children created age-progression photos to show what the children might have looked like at that time.

The case remained cold until last year, when authorities reopened the files. Using the latest in side-scan sonar technology, the Hamilton County Police Association Dive Team and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources assisted Delhi Police in the search.

The equipment located the car, which was removed from the river and taken to a secure location for examination. Nguyen’s bone was found four days later by anthropologists from the University of Indianapolis.

According to Indiana State Police officials, word came last week that the fibula found in the vehicle was that of the missing mother.

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McCreary said another dive is planned, once the winter weather improves, in the hopes of finding more of Nguyen’s body, or those of her children.

“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,” McCreary said.

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