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ISSUES WITH JANE VELEZ-MITCHELL
Missing Softball Players Found in Submerged Car
Aired November 3, 2009 - 19:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JANE VELEZ-MITCHELL, HOST (voice-over): Tonight, three young women vanish into thin air. A disturbing mystery sparks a desperate search for three college softball players. The coeds went star-gazing near a desolate lake, and they haven`t been seen since. What happened? They made two frantic phone calls to a friend. Now there`s no sign of them or their little dog. Was this an natural disaster or something far more sinister?
And Lindsay Lohan`s downward spiral. The actress goes off on her dad, calling him a lunatic who`s never been involved in her life. This all started after Michael Lohan said Lindsay looked like she was 100 years old and needed help with her drug addiction. Meanwhile, he claims Lindsay`s mom fears Lindsay will soon O.D. and could, quote, "end up like Heath Ledger." Is Lindsay Lohan playing with her life?
Also inside of the mind of a twisted sexual deviant. The Halloween mad man who led police on a nationwide manhunt is speaking out from behind bars. Tonight, we`ll play his head-spinning comments on air. He tortured a woman for 13 hours on Halloween night. Now four years later, he`s talking to "Inside Edition," and you`re not going to believe what he`s saying.
Plus it`s happened again. The secret life of another celebrity sportscaster exposed. Jim Nantz, perhaps the most popular sports commentator in the country, but now a nasty divorce is revealing some of his dark secrets. As his 26-year marriage collapses, we now learn he had an affair with a woman two decades his junior. We`ll have all the juicy details.
ISSUES starts now.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Tonight, three college students vanish along with their small dog after making hysterical calls to friends. Could they be the latest victims of what we here on ISSUES call the war on women? Did these three friends suffer some kind of tragic accident or something far more sinister?
Twenty-two-year-old Kyrstin Gemar, 21-year-old Ashley Neufeld, and 20- year-old Afton Williamson play softball at Dickinson State University in North Dakota. The frantic calls that they made to friends Sunday night are among the only clues in their very mysterious disappearance.
Here`s Kyrstin`s dad on "Good Morning America."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LENNY GEMAR, FATHER OF MISSING WOMAN: I believe it`s just the nature of the fact that only half an hour after they`d left the off-campus apartment, those two emergency calls came in. They were cut off in mid- call. There was nothing to indicate that there was an assailant or anything like that going on. It just -- it comes across as sounding more like an accident of some kind.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, that`s the dad`s belief. However, police say the caller was hysterical and mentioned being near a lake and water. So investigators searched a nearby lake. Guess what they found? Absolutely nothing.
The women are believed to have gone star-gazing in a rural area before they disappeared. Police are interviewing people as we speak who think they saw the women in a town 40 miles from campus just hours after their frantic phone calls. But why has nobody spotted the Jeep they were in or the little dog that they brought with them?
I want to hear from you. What`s your theory on this mystery?
Let`s welcome my awesome panel: Stacey Honowitz, supervisor of the sex crimes unit in the Florida prosecutor`s office; Brenda Wade, noted clinical psychologist; and Michelle Sigona, investigative reporter with MichelleSigona.com.
All right, Stacey Honowitz, we were just talking to the public information officer with Dickinson Police Department. He`s going to call us back because he said something`s going on. Hanging up the phone. Got to run. This story is developing as we speak. Let`s pray it`s good news. Let`s pray they found these girls but you`ve heard the basics.
What does it sound like to you?
STACEY HONOWITZ, SUPERVISOR, SEX CRIMES UNIT, FLORIDA PROSECUTOR`S OFFICE: You know what, Jane, I don`t have a theory in the case, because there`s so many different ways that you can end up looking at this.
It sounds like that they were -- you know, could be sinister because there was a frantic, hysterical person on the line. I don`t know if they saw something, you know, in front of them, that it was coming towards them at the time the call was made. The father`s on the phone, saying he thinks it`s accidental.
So there are so many theories that could be out there that that`s why it`s so important that these leads develop and we hear all this upcoming news, you know, probably minute by minute as they speak to people to find out what kind of information they might have. But right now we`d all be speculating. I couldn`t tell you what the theory is in this.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, if I was a parent and I looked at these facts, I would want to believe that it was some kind of accident. I wouldn`t want to believe something more sinister.
But calls to the missing women`s phone numbers are now going straight to voice mail. One of them called a friend twice on Sunday night. The first call was at 11:18 p.m. The caller asked for help and mentioned water. The friend heard, quote, "hysterical noises" before the line went down.
The second call came a minute later and lasted only 30 seconds. The calls were traced to a cell tower about five miles from campus.
So Michelle Sigona, investigative reporter, you`ve been tracking this case all day. What do you make of the phone calls? What do you know?
MICHELLE SIGONA, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: Well, at this particular point, what we do know is that the three girls did, in fact, get into a Jeep Grand Cherokee which does belong to Kyrstin. They drove out to an unknown location.
Now, this area is a place that they have traveled pretty frequently. They are on the softball team. All the girls do spend a lot of time together. One of them actually just -- just became a part of the university pretty recently.
And the phone calls that were made to the friend, those calls for help, they were also a member of the softball -- of the softball team, as well.
Now I did get off of the phone earlier within the last hour with Kyrstin`s parents, Larry and Claire. And what they tell me is they are there on location in North Dakota. They`re from California. And all the other girl`s families are there. They were on campus today.
And yesterday, yesterday afternoon, a lot of the students just spontaneously just got together. They held a prayer vigil on campus. And everyone is just doing everything they can to stay positive.
Tomorrow, there`s a lot of people coming forward that want to volunteer their time and their services, which is great. But police do not want folks going out there on their own searching for these girls. They need to be with police officers and with investigators to be able to go out there. They are searching by air. They are on the ground. They are doing everything that they can to be able to try to locate these three girls tonight.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Police say there`s an unconfirmed report the women were in a bar in Killdeer, North Dakota, two nights before they vanished. Now we`ve got a Google map to show you. Killdeer is about 40 miles north of the university. There are more unconfirmed sightings in Killdeer yesterday.
So my question, Brenda Wade, psychologist, could these women have gotten in the bar and caught somebody`s eye? I mean, could they have told somebody about their plans to go star-gazing in a remote area? Should police be interviewing everyone who was at that bar to see if some creep was lurking around and became fixated on one of these young women?
BRENDA WADE, CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST: You know, Jane, this is one of those cases where, first, I have to just send out my prayers, my best wishes to the parents. I can`t imagine what they`re going through.
But I know at a time like this, the only thing that can get you through it is knowing that you have support. And people like us all over the country, are sending good-wishes and prayers out to them.
Now should the police interview everyone? Yes, I think so because you don`t know. In a bar, anybody could have been there. Anyone could have seen them if they were, in fact, there. And we just don`t know at this day and time what goes on in people`s minds. There are people who are unhinged for a lot of different reasons. The economy hasn`t helped. People who are close to the edge have slid off.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: I don`t know that anybody who is potentially a sinister, violent predator is impacted by the economy.
You know what occurred to me as I saw this story? OK, here`s another thing women can`t do. Women can`t go star-gazing at night alone without putting their lives in danger. And this is why we here on ISSUES talk about the war on women and we talk about women in this country being forced to wear psychological burqas.
You look at that video of women wearing burqas on the other side of the world. And you say, oh, my God, isn`t that horrific? And it is horrific. But in a sense, aren`t we wearing psychological burqas, Stacey Honowitz, when we as women can`t go star-gazing, we can`t go to a concert without fearing if we`re separated from our friends we could be abducted?
You know, there is so much happening to women disappearing left and right. We`re covering it every day. It`s really impacting other women psychologically about our freedoms of doing anything. I mean, I dare say it scares me, walking my dogs at night. I think about this stuff.
HONOWITZ: Well, you know, what, Jane? You have to think about this stuff. And we do cover it all of the time in the news, and it does seem to be, you know, an attack on women. But you know, we`ve tried and you`ve tried several times to say, what do we do? How do we solve this problem? What do we do about it? Right now there are no answers, and so the only thing that you can say is you have to watch your back.
WADE: Well, there are some answers I`d like to suggest.
HONOWITZ: What do you do?
WADE: There are a couple of answers I`d like to suggest. One is that we as women do have to be smart, as you`re already saying, Stacey. But we also...
VELEZ-MITCHELL: And not go star-gazing.
WADE: And enroll other women as our allies and say, "If I`m going to be out tonight, I want you to watch my back. Let somebody know where I am." We have to create a tracking system.
But more than that, how about solving the problem at a higher level?
WADE: And looking at why our culture is as misogynistic as it is. Why we have music videos that call women names that I can`t even say on the air. Why do we allow that sort of thing to proliferate in our culture? I think we need to ask these questions and teach our young people to respect women. Because everybody who`s on this panel...
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, guess what -- hold on a second. The powers that be out there that are making money off of violence against women are not listening. A new study by the TV Council, Parents Council, showed that TV violence against women and girls has jumped 120 percent. On hundred and twenty percent.
WADE: My God.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: That is an obscenity.
WADE: Jane that is.
SIGONA: Jane, this is a really good example of three women going out together, three young women going out together. This isn`t like the case that`s going on right now in Virginia, where it`s just one girl by herself or other cases that we know. These are -- this is a group of young females.
So even a group of younger females need to keep in mind that bad things can possibly happen. I mean, if that is...
VELEZ-MITCHELL: That`s what I`m saying. We as women can`t even go star-gazing. That`s sad.
All right. More on this very mysterious disappearance in just a bit. Let`s pray that they`re found. We know that the police were on the phone with us, and they took off, said there was some breaking news. We`re going to try to get in touch with them.
We`re also taking your calls on this. What`s your theory about this mystery: 1-877-JVM-SAYS. That`s 1-877-586-7297.
Also, Lindsay Lohan`s destructive lifestyle. Her dad thinks she really needs helps and published reports that her mom thinks that she`ll end up dead. Is this talented young actress really destroying her life? We`re going to examine it.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: We`ve got some very sad, breaking news to report. The Associated Press is telling us as we speak that these three young girls have been found dead in a vehicle that was pulled from a pond.
Once again, breaking news. These three beautiful young women have been found dead in a vehicle pulled from the pond, according to the Associated Press. This is a story we`ve been covering, hoping and praying, that they would be found OK.
They were out star-gazing on Sunday night, and they called -- one of them called, and there was a frantic cell phone call. And then another one, just about a minute later, where they said something about water, and there were hysterical noises in the background.
We didn`t know what happened. We were about at the start of this broadcast to do an interview with the public information officer for the local police department. He said, "Got to go." Hung up, ran off. And we suspected there was breaking news. And indeed, there is.
Michelle Sigona, you`ve been covering this story. You`ve spoken to the family.
SIGONA: I did.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: This is absolutely heartbreaking.
SIGONA: This is heartbreaking. When I spoke with Larry and Claire, Kyrstin`s parents just within the last hour and ten minutes, I mean, they were on the ground. They were very hopeful. They were very -- you know, just doing whatever they possibly could to help find their girls.
And actually I want to read you this message.
SIGONA: This message that Claire had told me. I said, "Do you have a message for the public?"
And she said, "Kyrstin, I love you. Please come home. Fight for your life until you can`t fight anymore. Give us a sign so we can come home -- so you can come home on Thanksgiving, and please bring the other girls with you."
This is a direct quote from Kyrstin`s mom, Claire, who is on the ground there with her husband, Larry, and they were there, you know, doing their best to search for their daughter.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, this is the worst-case scenario...
SIGONA: It is.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: It really is horrible. Brenda Wade, a psychologist. The families have gone to the college. They`re from California, Canada, and other parts. And they`ve all converged there, hoping against hope to find their precious children, who disappeared Sunday night after a frantic phone call. And now we find out that they`re -- they`ve been found dead in a vehicle that`s been pulled from a body of water.
Is there any solace, is there any comfort? How do you comfort these families at a moment like this?
WADE: You know, Jane, when we are grieving, we always go into something that actually protects us, which is we go into shock. And I`m sure that these families are in shock, and that`s a good thing. The nervous system just kind of shuts down. It short circuits, and it`s a way of keeping the terrible pain from completely overwhelming us all at once.
And as the shock wears off, the pain comes in bit by bit by bit. But initially, I`m sure they`re in shock. We`re all in shock. I mean, I`m shocked to hear this terrible news. I could hear it in your voice.
And at a moment like this, the most important thing for all of us to do is just send out that wave of heartfelt energy. Send out your love, your prayers, and just bless this family with everything you`ve got.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Stacey Honowitz, you`re a sex crimes prosecutor, and I have to say, in trying to always find some kind of hope out of these terrible tragedies, when I hear stories like this, having been a reporter for so many years, the first thing that runs through my mind is some horrible sadist took these girls and is going to torture them, and we`ll never find out what happened.
You know, if there`s any, if there`s any comfort it`s that let`s hope, God-willing, this was just a car accident, they died instantly and that their suffering was brief, if at all. And that certainly this wasn`t one of these horrific cases that we -- that unfortunately, you and I have spent so much time covering. And I think that we can fairly safely say that at this point.
HONOWITZ: Yes you know, Jane, it`s very difficult news. And I even feel bad talking about it, because it`s just so new to the families and for us to be sitting here. I know it`s important for the public to know, but it`s so private for them also.
But the only thing that we can hope is that, if it wasn`t an accident -- and we don`t know anything yet -- is that justice at some point is served and that they find somebody or the people that are responsible, if in fact, you know, they call it a homicide.
The difficult part in this, of course, is knowing that there was a frantic phone call made and, of course, everyone starts speculating. Maybe they -- somebody was coming toward them, and they did see something.
But again, I don`t even -- my condolences go to the family. And let`s just hope that whatever investigation comes from here, something gives us some answers. It`s the only thing that I can say.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: And, Stacey, I wholeheartedly agree with you. It`s very uncomfortable discussing this. We were covering this story when the breaking news came in as we covered it.
And again, I said that the police officer was going to talk to us, and he literally said, "Got to go." And as soon as I heard that I felt, there`s got to be some breaking news to him to just hang up so abruptly.
Michelle Sigona, you`ve covered so many of these stories. Your thoughts? We only have a few more seconds.
SIGONA: It`s just -- it`s heart-wrenching. My thoughts, my prayers go out to all of these families, to the softball team, to this entire university of almost 3,000 students that go there.
I know that everyone`s been pulling together. They had that prayer vigil last night on campus, and it`s juts -- this is going to be a very difficult time for this university, and we just really need to pray for them.
WADE: And that`s the most comforting thing people can do is actually to come together and grieve together and to remember these extraordinary young women who were clearly so vibrant and so full of life.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: All right. We will be back in just a moment with more on this breaking story.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Of course, this is just in. These three beautiful, young women, college co-eds, softball players, they`ve been missing since Sunday. Police just reporting through the Associated Press that they`ve all been found dead, pulled from a pond northwest of Dickinson, where they attended university. Police say, "We`re still investigating the cause of death."
This is a worst-case scenario result for the families who have converged on this area, remote area, North Carolina -- North Dakota, where these young ladies went to Dickinson State University. Again, very, very actively involved in softball. Twenty, 21 and 22 years of age. Their names are Kyrstin Gemar, Ashley Neufeld, and Afton Williamson, all members of the Dickinson softball team.
They loved to go star-gazing, and Sunday night, they had plans to go star-gazing in a remote area there in North Dakota. And then the phone calls came in, the cell phone calls, one after the other, a minute apart. One with hysterical noises in the background and some reference to water. And then the cell phones went dead. Any calls to those cell phones went straight to voice mail.
And now once again, we`re getting this terrible news that these three young ladies are dead, and we do not know the cause of death.
Stacey Honowitz, what do authorities do now, in terms of trying to determine the cause of death? Obviously, they`re going to have to look at how these women were positioned when they were pulled out. And obviously where they were they in the vehicle, the Jeep Cherokee that they were last seen in?
If they were in that Jeep Cherokee and the three of them are just seated there and there was a small dog, as well, and they`re pulled out, what happens next? Toxicology tests, what?
HONOWITZ: Yes, well what happens naturally, Jane, is autopsies performed on all three of the victims in this case, and maybe an autopsy would be able to reveal the cause of death. Also toxicology reports. I mean, all of those things that you hear about when there is a death, whether by homicide or suicide or accident. They have to autopsy the body, and then they get results from there and then, hopefully, that will lead toward an investigation determining what the cause of death was.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: But Michelle Sigona, you have covered so many of these as an investigative reporter over the years. It sounds like an accident, doesn`t it?
SIGONA: It does initially, Jane. And of course, you know, we will wait for those reports to come in as investigators are out there now. I`m sure they`re surveying the land to figure out exactly how the Jeep went from the land into the water. They`ll take tire marks, you know, they`ll do a whole array of things before they -- and after the autopsy, as well, in combination with their investigation.
They`ll be able to say, "OK, this is what we feel happened. This is what we know to be true." So that may take a few days at this point.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: All right. Leroy...
HONOWITZ: You will have to remember that there might be -- there might be -- they externally look at the body. And while you say that it could be accidental, it could also be that a homicide took place, the bodies were placed back in the car, and then the car was pushed into the pond. So they look at all of the external injuries, the internal injuries to determine whether or not it was a homicide or it was an accident.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, we certainly hope and pray that this was just a tragic accident and these girls did not suffer, that this was something that happened within a tiny moment and that`s it. We`ll be back with more.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Take a look at those three beautiful women: Kyrstin Gemar 22; Ashley Neufeld 21; Afton Williamson age 20. They come from all around the country like Elsinore, California; Manitoba, Canada; Grossmont, California. They had been going to Dickinson State University. And they were really, really involved in athletics, particularly the school`s softball team. They`re all players on the softball team.
Everything was going great until about 11:49 on Sunday. That night the mood changed when there was a very, very frightening cell phone call that came in from one of these young women, begging for help. Something had gone wrong. Hysterical noises in the background. A mention of water but it was all very unclear. Then a minute later another 30-second call. And then suddenly the phones went dead.
The three of the girls had gone together with a small dog in their jeep Cherokee to go star-gazing outside campus. The cell phone tower showed that they were in the vicinity; the cell phone tower that pinged off of the cell phone calls was five miles from the university. But they couldn`t find them.
There was a massive search by air, by ground, and then just minutes ago during this broadcast we got the terrible, terrible news that all three were found dead pulled from a pond northwest of Dickinson. They were in a vehicle. Police are still investigating the cause of death.
Jim Moret, you`re the chief correspondent at "Inside Edition" and we`ve worked on so many stories together, crime stories and tragedies. We don`t know how these young women died. But it`s just a heartbreak when we have to report something like this and a shocker too. We had no idea that this was going to happen, obviously breaking news during our broadcast.
JIM MORET, CHIEF CORRESPONDENT, "INSIDE EDITION": Jane, look, you and I have covered a lot of crime stories. We don`t know if this is an accident or a crime.
I`m sitting, watching as are all of your guests and your viewers, I have got two daughters, 23 and 20 and I think about those parents and the calls that you get from your children and late at night are always the ones that make you jump and make you anxious and the scenario that you just described of getting a frantic call talking about water, hearing hysterical -- screaming or noises behind, you don`t know what to think.
And as a parent you always fear the worst. And my heart -- as I know yours does -- goes out to these families. Investigators clearly have a lot of work do. They have to decide and conclude whether or not this was an accident, whether this is a crime scene. That could take some time.
Clearly there are some inferences that you could draw from this. If they were in the car as you say it`s possible it simply went off of the road. It was a remote area as you described. We would presume there aren`t many, if any, lights out there if they were going star-gazing. Maybe they just went off the road.
But clearly you don`t want to jump to conclusions now. You want to let the investigators do their work.
MORET: But this is the most difficult type of story to report when you have three young women with their futures in front of them and now they`re extinguished like that.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Now we`ve just gotten new information in from the Associated Press. Police are saying, Stacey Honowitz, that it is the jeep that they were last seen in. So they were in their own vehicle.
Police say they followed the tracks into the pond but here`s an interesting point. The pond is 12 feet deep. So it`s not a very, very deep pond but it is deep enough to be higher than the height of these young women. Your thoughts, Stacey.
STACEY HONOWITZ, FLORIDA PROSECUTOR: Again, Jane, you know I`d just be speculating. I mean what troubles me I think is the frantic phone call. You know if you`re kind of -- I guess you could look at it both ways. If you`re king of sinking you can have time to make the call. Or if you see something really terrible coming towards you or somebody being attacked you have time to make a call that could be just as frightening.
So again it would be speculating and again they have, like Jim said, the investigators have their work cut out for them. And we will hear bits and pieces as the days go on, you know, as they let some of the information out as to where it`s heading towards a homicide or towards an accident.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, Michelle Sigona, one of the young women`s father said that he thought that -- even before this terrible, terrible news broke, he thought that everything pointed to an accident. Now that you`re hearing that police follow the tracks into the pond that`s 12 feet deep and that it is the jeep that they were last seen in, what are your thoughts as a longtime investigative reporter?
MICHELLE SIGONA, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: Again, what it does appear to be at this particular moment is an accident; I can tell you based on covering stories in North Dakota. And I`ve been to many towns through there and I`ve driven from many large cities from Minot (ph) to Bismarck and all across is that when you are driving it`s not heavily populated.
This is of course one of those states where you know the larger cities are more populated than the others. So this particular area from what I`ve been told is that when they drove out there, you know there`s a lot of lakes and a lot of hills and a lot of -- you know just a lot of land where you could kind of get lost.
And so you know who knows. This obviously may have been an area that they`ve traveled to before. You know I can say that Kyrstin`s father did tell me that he -- his daughters told them before that she`s gone out to star-gaze and has gone out to do those time things with her girlfriends.
I can tell you that Afton is actually pretty new to the campus. She was a transfer-in and so she is sort of new to the group. But the other two girls were better friends throughout -- throughout their time playing softball together. And that the team itself is actually very close.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: What a terrible development to just arrive at a university and then a tragedy like this befalls you.
Mike Brooks on the phone; he is HLN law enforcement analyst, again, an expert in these kinds of tragic occurrences. Mike, you`ve been hearing the information as it`s come in, drips and drabs the tragic news that these three young women were found dead in a jeep pulled from a pond northwest of their university.
What are your thoughts in terms of how this investigation will proceed?
MIKE BROOKS, HLN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST (via telephone): Well, I can tell you, Jane the investigation, they`re going to take a look at everything. It sounds like where you start is going to be this cell phone call. That is the first thing. That`s the one known that they have.
We know that there was -- the cell tower was about five miles from campus. Now were there any other cell towers that they could possibly triangulate to find out exactly where it was? Apparently not. But these are things that they`re going to look at. They`re going to look at all of the women`s phones.
And they`re also going to take a look were all of the women fully, totally inside of the car? There`s a number of different scenarios, Jane, that I could think of. I don`t want to speculate about that now.
The other things that the investigators are going to take a look at, was there any damage? Were they run into this pond, what was the proximity of this pond to the road? Was it a secondary road? Was it a main road?
And a lot of people don`t realize it, Jane, but I did a story back a number of years ago on an accident. Different makes of cars, people don`t realize it, but there is a basically what we call it a black box that can give you a number of readouts of the vehicle about how fast it was going. If it had brakes, all of these kind of things.
I have to look in to find out whether or not (INAUDIBLE) does have these. I`m not sure if they do but if they do, it can tell you a lot of information about what happened right before it went into the water.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: This was a 1997 white Jeep Cherokee. And so my thoughts, Mike, while we have you, in terms of some cars are more likely to rollover than others, this is sort of a boxy car. It`s not a little tiny, tiny car.
Any thoughts about how this particular vehicle might factor in, if in fact, the tracks went from the road off into the pond?
BROOKS: You know a Jeep Cherokee especially a 1997 would probably do better off-road. In fact they`re made -- a lot of them are 4-wheel-drive vehicles that are made to go off-road -- and that`s possibly what these women may have done. But if I`m not mistaken, Jane, you were showing on one graphic that the cell phone, the one call that came at 11:49, it was a 40-second call.
BROOKES: That`s a long call if this car had gone into the water and was starting to sink and go under the water. Usually it would not take that long. Was one of the women calling for help because maybe the two other were in the car and had gone into the water? Again these are all of the scenarios that I don`t want to speculate about but they`re going to take a look, look for any kind of damage as I said to see if they were forced from the car. Look around the pond. Were there tracks leading into the pond?
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, that`s what the police said. They followed the tracks into the pond which was 12 feet deep. And let me just ask you this follow-up question, Mike.
BROOKS: Yes, there you go.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Is that we`ve all seen stories like this where once the car is submerged it`s not easy to open the doors.
BROOKS: No. Depending if they had either electronic locks or if they had manual; a lot easier to open up with a manual, but it is still not impossible to do it with electric locks.
We`ve seen a number of different stories and I`ve been in scenarios where we`ve done training to see how hard it would be to get out of a car and also to get into it for rescue purposes.
But when you are panicking, Jane, and you haven`t thought about you know, what if something would ever happen like that people just react differently.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, once again, we are just really, really disheartened, sad, depressed to have to tell you that these three, beautiful young women have just been discovered dead, pulled from a pond northwest of their university. We`re trying to figure out what happened. Police don`t know yet.
Stay right there.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: We`re just getting word that a prayer service has been scheduled for tonight on the campus of Dickinson State University as the student body comes together to mourn the death of these three beautiful young women that you`re looking at right here. All three, members of the softball team, friends; and they went star-gazing in a rural farming area in North Dakota.
And Sunday night they disappeared. They simply vanished into thin air along with a small dog that they had with them. But not before placing two calls, two frantic cell phone calls, a minute apart: one at 11:18 p.m.; and one a minute later. And there were hysterical noises in the background, the one call and a reference to water.
And just moments ago police informed us that, yes, they found the three coeds dead and they pulled them from a pond northwest of their university. They were in their Jeep Cherokee.
And now the question, why? Was it an accident? Were they fleeing something? Was it very dark and they simply couldn`t tell that they were going into a pond 12 feet deep? Police say that they follow the tracks into this pond which we`re now learning is 50 yards wide, 50 yards long. So it wasn`t very long.
And I want to go back out to Jim Moret because again, Jim, you have covered so many of these cases over the years. You know what strikes us all is if it`s 12 feet deep, 50 yards long, 50 yards wide and you drive in there for whatever reason, how hard is it to get out of a situation like that and the decision to make a phone call perhaps as opposed to just frantically trying to get out of the car?
We can`t really speculate but you`ve covered so many of these.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: We just got word, one thing that just came into my ear. Police are saying foul play is not suspected. So that`s excellent news in the sense that it`s a comfort hopefully to the parents. Foul play is not suspected, Jim.
MORET: A couple of years ago, Jane, I took a training course where you learn what to do if you`re in an aircraft and you make a water landing and you`re actually submerged in a pool. And it`s very easy to become disoriented. So when you talk about a pond that`s 12 feet deep, you`re also talking about an area they were going -- we know that they were going star-gazing.
So that -- you can assume that there`s not many lights in the area, otherwise wouldn`t be able to see the stars; it`s easy to become disoriented. We don`t know the positioning of the jeep, if it was right- side up, if they went in head first. You simply don`t know so many things.
But I can tell you from experience that it is very easy to become disoriented when you`re under water. You`re told, follow the bubbles. But if it`s dark and if the electrical system went out, we don`t know if there were any lights. That`s why I know my kids have their phones on speed dial for home and maybe they grabbed their phones and did the first thing that they could but it may have been very difficult to get the doors open.
Again, I don`t want to speculate but I do know having gone through this one training course, it`s not as easy as it sounds even though in broad daylight it would be a very different story.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: I want to tell you something about these three beautiful, young women. You`re looking at Ashley Neufeld there. She was an outfielder. She played in 29 games last season; compiling a batting average of .314 and collecting 16 RBIs which is quite an accomplishment.
Now Afton Williamson, who is in the hair bun, maybe we can show you her picture. She was the recent transfer from Riverside Community College in Riverside, California. And according to one of her friends, she was one of the happiest people ever, always smiling, loved playing softball, an extremely hard worker. Always a smile on her face especially when she`s on the field.
And again, it just seems so unfair that these three youngsters, 20, 21, 22 --we`ll go to the third, Kyrstin Gemar, she`s the one who is in the navy blue, A third baseman. There she is. Collected a batting average of .475 last season; she batted in 38 runs and hit ten home runs in 38 games played.
I want to bring in psychologist, Belisa Vranich. Look at these beautiful, happy faces. I think we`re all in shock that we started this show tonight talking about the fact that they were missing, hoping that they would be found. Perhaps they forgot to call. Perhaps there was some misunderstanding.
And now we`re talking about these three young women dead.
BELISA VRANICH, PSYCHOLOGIST: Just the shock of hearing their ages and that they`re athletes is absolutely terrible. And as viewers, I think the amount of pain that we`re thinking about their parents being in right now is tremendous.
As a psychologist, what I`m thinking about, as far as the accident or what would have seemed to have happened is that the panic that they must have felt must have really been disorienting because of the dark and being in the water. So you have three girls that are athletic like that and young, just barely out of their teens, I can see how the panic must have really been a factor in whatever happened there.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Yes. And they`re going to have to look at the evidence Michelle Sigona. They were star-gazing. They brought a young -- a small dog with them. They had made these calls with the three cell phones. So obviously, it`s going to be very key in terms of what exactly was in that vehicle.
MICHELLE SIGONA: You`re exactly right. And as Mike Brooks mentioned earlier, what will happen is that investigators will start with those cell phone records and start to see exactly where -- you know, as close to the area of the pond as they can possibly get to, to see where, you know, those calls actually came in from.
And then from that point then they`ll probably go out to the land to see how the vehicle actually went from the land and into the water to be able to see, you know, if the girls were inside, if they were outside of the particular vehicle at that time. As they pulled that vehicle out, then they`ll start to dissect it and go through it...
SIGONA: ... bit by bit.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: And once again, a prayer service spontaneously organized at the university.
We`ll be right back.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Again, terrible news that we reluctantly report: these three beautiful young women that you`ve been looking at, all sadly, tragically dead. Authorities pulled their bodies from a pond northwest of the university they were attending in North Dakota, Dickinson State.
We`re just hearing now that one of the ways that they may have been alerted to this particular pond was that aerial searchers noticed oil on the surface of this pond, which is 50 yards wide, 50 yards long, and 12 feet deep.
Right now we have Jenny Michael from the "Bismarck Tribune" on the phone. Jenny, what can you tell us about this terrible tragedy?
JENNY MICHAEL, REPORTER, BISMARCK TRIBUNE (via telephone): Well, ground searchers at 2:45 Mountain Standard Time saw vehicle tracks leading into this duck pond with oil residue on the surface. From there crews in the air were able to see a white vehicle in the water. At 4:25 Mountain Standard Time the 1997 white Jeep Grand Cherokee belonging to one of the girls was pulled from the pond. All three girls were inside, and all three were dead at that time.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Now, what about some of the other details that we`ve heard about this case, that they were traveling with a small dog? Has the dog been located? What about the three cell phones? What can you tell us about some of the details?
MICHAEL: Well, I guess, at the news conference that was held shortly after they discovered the girls, nothing was actually said about the dog. We`re not sure about that at this time. It`s believed the girls were up on a stargazing trip. At this time we don`t actually know where the pond was except that it was northwest of Dickinson.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: All right.
Mike Brooks, what do you make of the fact that authorities are now saying flat out they do not suspect foul play and that they`re describing this -- and I`ll throw that to Michelle Sigona -- they`re describing this, it would seem to me they`re really leaning to it`s just a tragic accident.
SIGONA: Yes, that does appear what it seems to be at this time is that does at this particular moment appear to be a tragic accident. But having said that investigators will still move forward with the autopsy; they`ll still move forward with an investigation to be able to say 100 percent sure, ok, yes, in fact, this was an accident or whatever the case may be and we feel that it happened in this manner.
And over the next couple days, Jane, you and I both know that we will be able to track this case very easily and to be able to figure out exactly how this happened. And I`m sure that investigators in that area, because they are working extremely hard on this, I was on the phone with them late last night up until just a couple of hours ago.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Randy, yes, let me just bring in Randy Kessler, who`s been very patient, a noted attorney. If this is an accident, could there be any legal recourse at all for these families, sir?
RANDY KESSLER, ATTORNEY: Well, Jane, of course I want to share in the condolences expressed by your guests. But there could be. It may be a little premature. There`s no criminal case obviously now but there may be a civil case.
But I think the real sad thing is that until we learned that it was an accident we all jumped to the conclusion. And in America we`re less safe and we just feel less safe. We want closure. One way to bring about closure is to find out why there was this accident. And if there is liability you can bet there will be a lawsuit.
If the car was mis-manufactured, if there was some malfunction; they`ll be looking into all aspects of the accident.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, we just have to say here on ISSUES that we`re all heartbroken.
Look at these beautiful smiling faces filled with opportunity and talent. And it`s really sad to have to report tonight that these three young women are dead; and our condolences, our hearts go out to their families. And it`s just very sad.