Eight days after a young Fresno woman was reported missing by her distraught family, police believe it was her body that was spotted by a passerby in a central Fresno canal Saturday morning.
The body’s identity was not 100 percent confirmed, but police Chief Jerry Dyer said that it’s almost certainly Lucy Xiong, 20, who was last seen wearing the same clothes – a gray T-shirt and white denim jeans – that were found on the body.
“There is a high degree of certainty this is Lucy Xiong,” Dyer told reporters. The coroner, who is in charge of identifications, did a preliminary examination at the scene, but police don’t expect to know more before Sunday, he said.
“It is certainly a tragedy,” Dyer said. “We did not spare any resources, we had as many as 40 detectives on the case.”
Andy Xiong, Lucy’s brother, said Saturday night that the family was still trying to take in the news.
“This is the worst way to find out” about Lucy’s possible fate, he said, but added the family would have no further comment for now.
The passerby spotted the body lodged partly under the bridge on the east side of Van Ness Avenue just south of Elizabeth Avenue and then borrowed a cell phone to notify police at 11:44 a.m.
How the body got into the canal is still a mystery, Dyer said, but there were no signs of significant injury other than what would be expected from a body being in a canal. It may be that the woman fell into the canal accidentally, but police have not ruled out that something else happened, he said. Police are studying surveillance cameras from nearby businesses to try to track Xiong’s whereabouts after she left her family’s home.
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, on July 28.
Police said Xiong ran off from her home after arguing with her mother around 12:35 a.m. and was on the phone with her boyfriend when she uttered an expletive and a scream, and the call abruptly ended. Her family did not report her missing until later that morning, around 10 a.m., Dyer said.
It is certainly a tragedy.
Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer
Meanwhile, at 1 a.m. callers notified police that a woman appeared to be drowning in a canal at First Street and McKinley Avenue. About 13 officers on foot and a helicopter searched the area but did not find a body. Detectives searching for Xiong learned later of the drowning report.
Detectives had conducted searches of Xiong’s neighborhood, including a thorough search of her parents’ home on the 3200 block of East Olive Avenue. K-9 dogs were deployed to pick up any trace she might have left behind.
The search continued Thursday when the Fresno Irrigation District lowered water levels in the Dry Creek Canal to help aid police detectives. It began at 7 a.m., near First Street and McKinley Avenue and ended more than six hours later near Marks and Nielsen avenues, but only shopping carts and other debris were found and hauled from the water, police said.
Over 40 people helped search the canal for Xiong, using fire department cameras to look under bridges, Dyer said Saturday. Even though the water levels had been lowered, the flow was too strong and dangerous to risk putting personnel in the water, he said.
The lowering and raising of the water possibly caused her to become dislodged.
Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer
Police previously searched the area where the body was found Saturday and removed a significant amount of debris, and the body was not there then, Dyer said. “What we don’t know is where she was from when she fell in to today,” he said. “The body was possibly lodged at a bridge.”
Irrigation district officials told police that bodies may become lodged in pipes under bridges, Dyer said. “The lowering and raising of the water possibly caused her to become dislodged,” he said.
From First and McKinley, the Dry Creek Canal flows in a southwesterly direction through neighborhoods until reaching Van Ness just south of Elizabeth slightly more than two miles away.
The investigation also includes tracking down the two people who used Xiong’s credit and debit cards in Fresno and Madera the day she went missing and the next day. Store surveillance cameras captured the image of a woman using the credit card at four locations, and police recognized her as a known felon with prior arrests for fraud and brought her in for questioning, Dyer said.
She told police that she found a purse with a wallet and the credit and debit cards near the canal in the area of First and McKinley. After using the credit card, she ran into a man and exchanged the cards for some personal property, Dyer said. The man used the credit card at one store and tried to use it at another, but a store clerk confiscated the card. The man, who has yet to be identified, then used the debit card seven times until there was no more money left in the account, Dyer said.
No arrests have been made at this point, he said.
Staff writer Chueyee Yang contributed to this story.