Body Found in Reno Is Missing Student

Brianna Denison was strangled; body dumped in a field a week ago, police say.

Feb. 16, 2008— -- A body found in a field in Reno, Nev., is that of 19-year-old Brianna Denison, a college student who has been missing since she was abducted a month ago by someone believed to be a serial rapist, police said today.

The identification was made in an autopsy conducted today by the Washoe County Coroner's Office, and announced at a news conference.

Police said Denison had been strangled, and her body had been in the field -- about 8 miles from where she was last seen -- for more than a week, and may have been concealed by recent heavy snow.

"I would say this is a serial rapist," Reno Police Deputy Chief Jim Johns said. "We have two, probably three (cases) linked through DNA.

"The totality of the information in this case leads us to believe it is a sexually motivated crime," he said. "I'm worried this guy is still out there and I'm worried somebody else is going to get hurt."

Denison vanished from the off-campus rental house of a friend -- a student at the University of Nevada-Reno -- on Jan. 20, while she was back in her hometown for winter break from Santa Barbara City College, where she attends classes. Police say she was last seen going to sleep on her friend's couch for the night after they attended a party at a Reno casino.

Police again asked for help from the public in finding whoever abducted and killed the young woman.

"The suspect is known to somebody in this community. Somebody knows who this man is, and for somebody to have that type of reaction, to take that step, it showed somewhere in their behavior," Johns said. "Whether they were nervous in January or whether this pushes the button today when the information gets out from the local media, this guy is going to show himself."

University of Nevada-Reno Police Chief Adam Garcia called the suspect an "animal," and said the school's investgators will do everything they can to help city police find the culprit.

Police have said they matched DNA evidence from the crime scene in her case to at least two other attacks in recent months.

Earlier this month they released a sketch of a suspect, based on a description from one of four women police say have been targeted in a string of attacks that all occured on or near the University of Nevada-Reno campus.

"We've been calling him a serial rapist," Lt. Robert McDonald, a spokesman for the Reno Police Department, told ABC News when the sketch was released. "It is what it is. You've got a guy here in four instances and all he's trying to do is rape young women, all of them in good shape with long hair.

"He certainly has a target group in mind," McDonald said.

The grim portrait of the suspect has emerged after DNA recovered from the scene of Denison's apparent kidnapping was matched to two sex assaults that happened in the same Reno neighborhood, one in November and one in December.

The case has become a central focus for the Reno Police Department, McDonald said, with signs hanging around the station that read "Find Bri," short for Denison's first name.

It also has trained a spotlight on a backlog of DNA samples submitted by criminals and suspected criminals in Washoe County that have not yet been logged into the law enforcement database.

Local businesses have been offering donations to help authorities cover the estimated $200,000 price tag needed to end the backlog by hiring an independent lab to handle the DNA processing. Still, McDonald said, that process will take up to two months. Money has also been made available to turn around DNA samples involved in the suspected serial rape case within two days.

ABC News affiliate KOLO-TV in Reno, Nev., and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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