Missing California Woman Found Dead in Church Parking Lot

By Zachary Stieber

A California woman who went missing on Valentine’s Day was found dead on Feb. 20, authorities said.

Brooke Harris, a 49-year-old mother-of-two, vanished on Feb. 14 in El Dorado Hills after calling her husband that morning.

Sheriff’s deputies were called six days later to a church in El Dorado County over a report of an unresponsive female in a vehicle.

The woman was identified as Harris, the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office said.

On February 20, 2019, at about 4:30 PM, the El Dorado County Sheriff's Office was dispatched to a report of an…

El Dorado County Sheriff's Office 发布于 2019年2月20日周三

She was declared dead by first responders.

The vehicle she was found inside of was her own, the sheriff’s office said. While her cause of death is under investigation, officials said there was no evidence of foul play.

According to the sheriff, Harris’s cellphone was found at her house on the day she went missing and surveillance cameras captured her, apparently alone, at the Red Hawk Casino near Placerville in the afternoon that day.

“We have investigated Brooke’s family and have found no evidence to suggest that anyone was involved in her disappearance,” the Sheriff’s Office said in a statement before the body was found. “The family has been completely cooperative throughout this entire investigation … at this time, we believe that Brooke left on her own volition.”

According to The Sacramento Bee, Harris was a registered nurse who was fired in 2014 and later surrendered her license for drinking alcohol while working.

Update 2-20-19: This investigation is still active and we want to share some information with the community. We have…

El Dorado County Sheriff's Office 发布于 2019年2月17日周日

The Bee reported that Harris had written in a petition for reinstatement submitted last April to the Board of Registered Nurses that she drank vodka because she suffered severe anxiety about seeing her husband.

Her license was reinstated by the state board just days before she disappeared after she submitted six letters of recommendation, including one from her husband, with a three-year probation period. Harris’s husband, Manny Harris, is a firefighter and a registered nurse.

The sheriff’s office acknowledged information about Harris’s past was circulating but said that it was “not helpful in assisting us in locating Brooke.” It added, “While this information is public record it is information that can be hurtful to the family members and the wellbeing of anyone involved.”

A friend of Brooke Harris, Kasey Frey, said that she was volunteering at an organization that Frey is also involved with.

“I have known Brooke for two years through the dog rescue that I’m a board member of. She started volunteering for us. She is a very loving person,” Frey told Fox 40 prior to the discovery of her body. “We had an immediate connection, an immediate friendship. But this is nothing I would ever have thought would have happened.”

A file photo shows the vehicle that Brooke Harris was found inside of on Feb. 20, 2019. (El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office)

Missing Persons

Over 600,000 people go missing in the United States every year, according to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System. Many of the missing adults and children are found safe but others are never found or are found dead. “It is estimated that 4,400 unidentified bodies are recovered each year, with approximately 1,000 of those bodies remaining unidentified after one year,” the center stated.

As of Jan. 22, there were 15,325 open missing person cases in addition to 12,449 open unidentified person cases. As of Dec. 31, 2017, the National Crime Information Center had over 88,000 active missing person cases across the country. But hundreds of thousands of cases were resolved that year. Approximately 651,000 missing person records were entered but about the same number were removed.

“Reasons for these removals include: a law enforcement agency located the subject, the individual returned home, or the record had to be removed by the entering agency due to a determination that the record is invalid,” the center stated.

The first 72 hours in a missing persons case is the most critical, according to criminology experts. That’s partly because investigators have the best chance of following up on leads before people’s memories start to fade, Dr. Bryanna Fox, former FBI agent and criminology professor at the University of South Florida, told ABC News.

“The information that law enforcement gets tends to be a little more accurate, and they are able to act on the information and hopefully get that person who is missing quicker,” Fox said. Later, there are fewer “bread crumbs,” or leads, to follow.

Dr. Michelle Jeanis, criminology professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, said that time is of the essence because the missing person could be in danger. After about a week, the person could very likely be dead, said former FBI Special Agent in Charge Steve Gomez.

“There’s a certain point after about a week or two where you have to think, the potential that the missing person is dead and now it’s a matter of trying to find their body and bring closure to the family and to determine if you now have a homicide investigation, or suicide, or some kind of accidental death,” he said.