DNA collected at the house where a 19-year-old Reno woman disappeared from more than a week ago matches DNA gathered by investigators after the sexual assault of another college student just blocks away in December.
Reno police announced the break in the case of the missing student, Brianna Denison, late Sunday and today will begin a more focused search for a suspect described as a white male between the ages of 28 and 40 who may be driving a pickup truck or a sport utility vehicle.
"It is a huge leap for us in the case," police Cmdr. Ron Holladay said today on "Good Morning America." "What we need to do now is find the suspect and match up the DNA."
If you have any information on this case, please call the 24-hour tip line at 775-745-3521.
The same suspect is now wanted by police for a Dec. 16 sexual assault in which he allegedly abducted another young woman outside her house near the University of Nevada-Reno campus and sexually assaulted her.
The victim in the December assault was also the target of an attempted robbery on Jan. 19, the day before Denison vanished as she slept on a couch at a friend's off-campus house.
There is no hard evidence linking the attempted robbery with Denison's disappearance, or the December sexual assault.
For a week, Denison's family and friends have held onto hope that Denison will be returned by her abductor. Lauren Denison, the young woman's aunt, called the announcement about the DNA match "bittersweet."
"We have something we can focus on now without letting our minds run wild," she said on "GMA." "We're in a sense happy, but saddened by what we know this suspect is capable of doing."
Authorities reinterviewed the victim of the December attack after they made the match to DNA left behind in Denison's abduction. They hope that details provided by the victim, who has not been identified, might help them identify and apprehend the suspect.
The assault victim also told authorities that the truck used in her December kidnap had a dome light above the windshield, was tall enough to require a step and had a floor-mounted console with a radio featuring red and blue LED lighting. A baby's shoe was on the floor of the vehicle, as were pieces of paper with typing.
In addition to being a white male likely in his 30s, the suspect was described as about 5 feet 6 inches tall with a long face and square chin. He had a large stomach and an "innie" belly button, according to police. He had shaved the hair around his pubic area and was wearing jersey-style shirt and workout pants with an elastic band.
Nevada police are also looking again at a third incident in November in which another local college student was fondled in the same area near the university campus. No one was arrested in connection with that incident.
The link between the cases follows an announcement last week in which detectives said that there initially did not appear to be a connection between Denison's disappearance and the previous assault cases.
Authorities also confirmed this weekend that a trace of blood left behind on a pillow used by Denison came from the missing teen.
Denison's friend K.T. Hunter awoke Jan. 20 to find that the young woman, a native of Reno, Nev., and California college student, was gone. Hunter's bedroom door, which was locked, was just feet from the couch where Denison was sleeping. Neither Hunter nor her dog heard anything in the night. The door to the house, however, was not locked.
Left behind were the teenager's shoes, cell phone and purse. Missing with Denison was a stuffed bear she had been using as a pillow.
The FBI joined the investigation last week. Reno public works employees combed through the city's storm drain system. Detectives spoke to neighbors in the area, including more than 100 registered sex offenders within a mile of the house. That is in addition to 1,700 sex offenders authorities are contacting throughout the county.
Denison's picture and missing-person information are being flashed on the digital billboards along the casino town's main strip. The young woman's family has posted a $100,000 reward in the case and the Secret Witness Program, an anonymous tip line taking information on her disappearance, has offered $2,500.
Denison was in Reno for winter break from Santa Barbara City College in California. She and her friends were attending events tied to an annual Martin Luther King Jr. weekend party Denison had previously attended.
Lauren Denison once again pleaded for the abductor to free the young woman. "Find it in your heart to let Brianna go," she said. "He's really putting heartbreak on a lot of people. It goes a lot further than Brianna and the suspect."
The search will continue for Denison this morning, with authorities combing the mountainous areas around Reno, including the Truckee River and train tracks.
Authorities believe Denison was barefoot, wearing only what she had worn to bed — pink sweats and a white tank top. She is described as 5 feet tall, weighing 98 pounds, with long dark brown hair and blue eyes.