Missing Teen Girls’ Bodies Recovered From Utah Lake

Lorenz Duchamps
By Lorenz Duchamps
May 15, 2020US News
Missing Teen Girls’ Bodies Recovered From Utah Lake
Sophia Hernandez (L) from Eagle Mountain and Priscilla Bienkowski from Saratoga Springs whose bodies were recovered from Utah Lake on May 14, 2020. (GoFundMe and Utah County Sheriff’s Office)

Two bodies that have been recovered from Utah Lake on Thursday are believed to be the remains of two missing teenage girls that vanished earlier this month, authorities said.

Multiple search and rescue agencies put over 1,000 hours into the difficult search in harsh weather conditions to find the girls, 18-year-old Priscilla Bienkowski and 17-year-old Sophia Hernandez, Utah County Sheriff Mike Smith said at a press conference.

A fisherman found one of the girls’ bodies near the shore at Lincoln Beach around 1:40 p.m. on Thursday, Smith said. Later that same day at approximately 4:40 p.m., a Utah County Sheriff’s Office (UCSO) search and rescue helicopter was able to recover the second body near Goshen Bay.

Smith said the second body was found about a half-mile north from where the second “duck tube”—a flotation device the girls used to get on the water—was located. The sheriff added that this location shows that the girls were found about 8.5 miles away from where they initially entered the water.

“One of the most important things that I want to say tonight is, on behalf of the sheriff’s office and all of the volunteers and everybody that has helped through this, is express our sincere condolences to the families of these two beautiful girls. This has been hard on everybody involved. I want to thank the families for their patience with us,” Smith said. “I can’t imagine and never want to imagine what they’re going through,” he added.

Bienkowski from Saratoga Springs and Hernandez from Eagle Mountain both disappeared when they went tubing in the Knolls area of Utah Lake on May 6, according to the UCSO.

One of the girls’ mothers tried to call her daughter that day after she got worried about why she hadn’t returned home. But when she called her the phone was answered by a fisherman at the lake instead of her daughter, who said he found the phone ringing at the beach’s shore together with some belongings, Deseret News reported.

The worried mother called police later that day to report Bienkowski and Hernandez missing.

UCSO search and rescue Sgt. Justin Gordon said at the press conference the main thing that made this rescue effort difficult was the harsh weather in this “unpredictable lake.”

Gordon said that following his experience as a search and rescue operator, he and his team figured out where to locate the girls, but the search ended up 6 miles east of that location.

“We felt like we had a very good search area, which is on the west side of the lake working south from where they went into the water,” Gordon said. “But we are 6 miles east of that.”

“It makes no sense. I don’t know yet. I’m going to have to digest this and figure out how I would handle a search differently in the future if one ever happened like this,” he said. “We were working in the right areas for where our experience said they should have been.”

Difficult weather conditions may have contributed to the girls’ disappearance, according to authorities. The winds were reported to be up to 40 mph at the time of their disappearance.

Another group of people at the lake who were out kayaking had to be rescued that same day after one of the boaters’ kayaks flipped over, KSL-TV reported.

“I’ve lived in Utah for a really long time, and I’ve never been on the lake when it’s been windy like that,” one kayaker told the outlet. “It felt like I was in the ocean.”

Officials determined that the girls were not wearing any life jackets before deciding to go out tubing at the lake that day.

NTD Photo
Priscilla Bienkowski from Saratoga Springs whose body was recovered from Utah Lake on May 14, 2020. (GoFundMe)
NTD Photo
Sophia Hernandez from Eagle Mountain whose body was recovered from Utah Lake on May 14, 2020. (GoFundMe)

“Wear your life jacket, that life jacket is your insurance to come home at the end of the day. It is your seat belt while you are out on the water,” one official reminded people at home following the tragedy.

The community held a vigil last week on May 10 to support the families of Bienkowski and Hernandez with messages of hope, support, and strength, after their girls had already been missing for four days.

“Friends and strangers gathered for a vigil at The Knolls on the shore of Utah Lake to support families of Priscilla Bienkowski and Sophia Hernandez, missing after going there Wednesday with ‘duck tubes’ to play,” UCSO wrote on Facebook.

“This is a beautiful family who I know and love,” a GoFundMe page set up to help Hernandez’s family with the funeral expenses read.

A GoFundMe page was also created for the mother of Bienkowski following this “very difficult, and very unexpected tragedy.”

“Priscilla Bienkowski was quick to smile, had the voice of an angel, and brought joy to her mother’s life,” the page read.

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