Fresno police confirmed Monday that the body found in a central Fresno irrigation canal Saturday was 20-year-old Lucy Xiong, who disappeared July 28. And while her death appears to be an accident, police still don’t know how she ended up in the canal.
The coroner’s officer determined she died from drowning, Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer said at a news conference.
“There is no evidence that Lucy Xiong’s death involved foul play,” he said. It appears that she died accidentally, but the case remains under investigation. “We do not know how Lucy Xiong ended up in the canal,” Dyer said.
There are no known witnesses but “we have no reason to believe anyone was involved” in her death, Dyer said.
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Her body was found about noon Saturday by a passerby who saw it lodged partly under a bridge on the east side of Van Ness Avenue, south of Elizabeth Avenue.
After Xiong disappeared, a credit card and a debit card from her purse were used illegally several times by four people, including a woman who police recognized in a video surveillance tape, he said.
Detectives found the woman, who told them she found the purse with a wallet in it on the side of the canal bank. She apparently found it after Xiong fell into the water, police said.
Police do not know why the purse did not also end up in the canal, Dyer said. Her cellphone remains missing and may be in the canal, he said.
The woman who illegally used Xiong’s debit card and credit card is a known methamphetamine addict who has been arrested before for identify theft, Dyer said. She has been cooperative with investigators and understands she did wrong, he said. Her name was not made public.
After using the cards several times, she gave them to a man in exchange for personal property, Dyer said. He used a card to buy gas for a vehicle, then two other men used them, he said.
When one of the men tried to use the credit card, a store clerk confiscated it. The three men are still unidentified, but detectives expect to identify and arrest them, Dyer said.
The canal where the body was found is about 1.5 miles from where Xiong was last seen, in the area of Olive Avenue and First Street. About 1 a.m. that day, police received a call from someone who reported seeing a woman who appeared to be drowning in the canal in the area of First and McKinley.
The call was made from the 3000 block of East Pine about eight minutes after the sighting. The caller did not have a phone when he witnessed the woman in the canal, Dyer said.
Dyer said Xiong had been drinking, came home late and got into an argument with her mother about 12:35 a.m. July 28.
“She took off running,” he said.
She called her boyfriend on her cellphone. He told detectives that he could hear that she was out of breath from running and he could hear what sounded like feet walking on gravel. She was probably using the speakerphone, Dyer said.
But she would not tell him where she was. She uttered an expletive and a scream, and the call ended abruptly.
Her family reported her missing around 10 a.m.
Dyer said the family wants to believe she was a victim of foul play. Investigators may never have answers to all the questions surrounding her death, he said.
Monday evening, family and friends of Xiong gathered for a vigil by the canal where her body was retrieved and reaffirmed their belief that she was killed.
“She’s gone, never coming back,” Lucy Xiong’s father, Kor Xiong, said to around 30 family members and friends who were gathered to say goodbye to Xiong.
Kor Xiong thanked “everybody who loves my daughter. My heart hurts, so I don’t know what to do right now. I talk and cry only.”
Many who attended the vigil were skeptical of the police department’s conclusion that Xiong’s death was an accident. They believe foul play was at work.
“I do believe that someone has to be involved,” said Xou Hang, Lucy’s boyfriend.
Along with Hang, Ace Xiong, Lucy’s uncle, said he wants justice for his family.
“This wasn’t an accident,” he said, “there’s a cause of her death from somebody.”