Body Found in Search for Missing Chilean

Police in search for woman on W. Va. exchange pull unidentified body from river.

Aug. 8, 2008— -- Investigators searching for a 36-year-old Chilean woman who went missing during her last days of a professional exchange program at West Virginia University recovered a dead body in a river late Thursday, police said.

It is unclear whether the woman's remains, which were pulled from the Monongahela River, belong to Carmen Gloria Sanchez Gutierrez. "Positive identification has not been made as of this time," the Morgantown Police Department announced in a release.

Because the body was found outside of Morgantown, the West Virginia State Police will oversee the death investigation.

Gutierrez was reported missing after she left a restaurant where friends were having dinner to make a phone call to her husband in Chile. He never heard from Gutierrez, who instead knocked on the door of a random house in Star City, W.Va., and asked for help, according to West Virginia University officials and the Morgantown Police Department.

When the homeowners told the woman they would call the police for her, she reportedly took off.

"I don't know whether she appeared nervous or what," First Sgt. Steve Ford, a spokesman for the Morgantown police, told Thursday before the body was recovered. "She started backing away and ran away from the house before the police got there."

Authorities in Morgantown took over the investigation from the West Virginia University police Wednesday afternoon and began searching the area where Gutierrez was last seen with scent-sniffing dogs.

Ford described Gutierrez as an outdoors enthusiast who arrived in Morgantown in April from Coyhaique, Chile, for a professional exchange program through West Virginia University. Gutierrez speaks some English.

Becky Lofstead, a West Virginia University administrator, wrote in an e-mail to that Gutierrez was participating as an apprentice guide in the university's "Adventure WV" program. Gutierrez was living with a host family, according to Lofstead.

The program, according to the university Web site, offers outdoor orientation trips to incoming freshman.

"The WVU family cares about Carmen and we are all hoping and praying for a successful outcome," the university said in a statement to

Gutierrez was participating in an outdoor trip over the weekend several hours from the university, but had returned to Morgantown by Monday, according to Ford, the police spokesman.

Ford also said that Gutierrez was scheduled to go back to Chile later this month, but recently had tried to push the return date up. University officials, however, had heard that the woman was considering extending her stay, according to Lofstead, the university administrator.

The Chilean newspaper El Diario de Aysen, in an extensive report that included an interview with a man described as Guiterrez's partner in Chile, reported that she wanted to return home on Aug. 12, eight days earlier than the original Aug. 20 date.

Hugo Paz Araya told the Chilean newspaper that he had received six e-mails from Gutierrez the day she disappeared. He spoke to her around 4 p.m. and she seemed despondent; the couple arranged for a 7 p.m. phone call, but he never heard from her, according to the interview with the paper.

Police and university officials say that at about the same time, Gutierrez left a table of friends at a restaurant and said she was going to find a pay phone to call home. Witnesses reported seeing Gutierrez walking away from the restaurant toward the house where she knocked and asked for help.

Ford, the police spokesman, was unable to confirm a report that Gutierrez checked into a hospital after leaving the outdoor education trip.

Authorities are casting a wide net in the investigation, but acknowledged that so far, they have few leads to go on. "We're pretty much checking anything we can think of," Ford said.

That included foul play, a possibility that police had not ruled out even though they had found no evidence yet suggesting Gutierrez was the victim of a crime. They were also considering that she had some type of medical issue.

The state police and FBI had already joined local police departments in the search for Gutierrez. She is described as 5 feet 3 inches tall, weighing 110 pounds. She was last seen wearing a gray, long-sleeved T-shirt, green capri-style pants, pink sandals and a fanny pack.

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