Two public utility workers found 19-year-old Alyssa Byrne's body Friday morning on Pioneer Trail in South Lake Tahoe, not far from the music festival she attended on New Year's Eve. The search for Alyssa ended less than a half-mile from where she was originally reported missing. "It is with deep regret that we announce that we have recovered the body of Alyssa Byrne. She is deceased," said a stoic undersheriff of Douglas County, Nevada, Paul Howell, as he delivered the sad news.
Investigators say Alyssa's body was found on the other side of a snow berm along the trail. The search had been handled by Nevada authorities, but Alyssa's body was found in California and it is now a case for the El Dorado County Sheriff's Office. "Her body was fully clothed and, like I said, there doesn't appear to be anything that would indicate foul play at this time. Once we're done processing the scene, there'll be an autopsy down in Sacramento, a forensic autopsy," explained Lt Pete Van Arnum with the El Dorado County Sheriff's Office.
Investigators say Byrne may have been disoriented on her walk because they believe she was heading the wrong direction while trying to get from the Snow Globe celebration, where she was reported missing, to the hotel where she may have never arrived. Although, there have been conflicting reports that she may have been seen at the hotel again after she had left, and it's not yet clear how she got to the point where her body was found.
As part of the forensic autopsy they will be doing a toxicology screening to see if Alyssa may have had drugs or alcohol in her system. Asked if it was possible Alyssa had been hit by a passing car, Arnum acknowledged, "That is a possibility, although from viewing the body, there didn't appear to be any indication of that. There was a large embankment, about four feet high."
Father expresses sorrow, gratitude
Investigators say Alyssa's father Kevin went to the scene where her body was found. "I extended our condolences. Anybody that's a parent feels the same way. He's doing as best as can be expected," Arnum said. He had been in Tahoe monitoring the search for his daughter.
Around 3 p.m. Friday he issued a statement saying, "As you're well aware our 19-year-old daughter, Alyssa Byrne, is gone. I was informed at around 9 a.m. when I was at the sheriff's office this morning that a body had been found in the snow along Pioneer Trail. About 45 minutes later they confirmed her identity. "
"Our entire family is devastated. We were still holding out hope that she would be found safe. We will miss Alyssa and she will be in our hearts forever."
"I want to thank all our family and friends who came to help search for her. To those who spent the last few days handing out fliers and supporting our family in every way they could, we owe you a debt of thanks."
"I also want to thank the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, the South Lake Tahoe Police Department, the Search and Rescue crew and everyone else who spread the word and tried to bring Alyssa home safely."
Family devastated, friends regretful
A steady stream of family and friends arrived at the Byrne home in Petaluma Friday. Inside a baseball cap left out in front of the home where Alyssa lived read an inscription, "For my little leaguer, RIP." "She just was a people pleaser. She was a great girl and she'll really be missed," her brother Gregory Byrne said.
Police went to the house at about 11 a.m. to pick up belongings brought back from Tahoe by Byrne's friends. A group of them had gone together for a three-day concert and last saw her late New Year's Eve. On Friday, they met outside her house, filled with regret they hadn't done more to watch out for her as she left the party. "I saw that she was messed up but like I said, Alyssa takes care of herself. Now, thinking about it, everything's, I should've. I should've asked her if she was OK," said her friend Chanel Kelly.
The whole town of Petaluma had rallied in hopes of finding her. There were yellow ribbons. There was a Facebook page. A friend, Mariah Harvey, was working on a painting she intended for Alyssa herself. Now, it will be filled with condolences for her family. "She could make anyone laugh. She could make anyone sad extremely happy. She could do anything," she told ABC7 News.
Byrne was a Casa Grande graduate working as a hostess at the Cattlemens restaurant, hoping to settle on a career goal this year. "Alyssa was a very strong, very confident young lady who had career in mind and it's just tragic what has happened to her," said her great aunt Dolores Bruns.
"She loved to participate and be active with her friends and her family. Her life ended way too soon," her great aunt Elizabeth Miller said.
It's clear how much Alyssa's family loved her and it's also clear how much she loved her family. Her friends say she had one tattoo and it said, "I love my mother, my father, and my brother."
Hundreds gather to mourn Alyssa Byrne's death
Hundreds of people stopped by a vigil honoring Byrne Friday night at Casa Grande High School in Petaluma. Friends and relatives shared their grief and affection for Byrne, including her brother who gave his heartfelt thanks for everyone's efforts to find her.
For more than an hour, the large crowd stood before a collection of candles, flowers, and balloons, and barely said a word. Towards the end, Alyssa's brother, Greg Byrne, got up to thank everyone.
"What we need to focus on is moving forward and just healing. What we need to focus on is the healing. So from the bottom of my heart and from the bottom of my family's heart, I just want to say thank you," said Greg.
"Usually, I get flowers for someone's birthday. I've never had to do something like this, like for losing someone. So it's really hard. I've never had to do something like this for someone I really cared about," said Olivia Iniguez, Alyssa's friend.
Some friends also got turtle tattoos as a way to remember Alyssa.
"Alyssa just loved turtles. Everyone knows, everyone was a turtle to her. It was just something everyone knows of her," said Ashley Lind, Alyssa's friend.
At the Cattlemen's Restaurant where she was as a hostess, her co-workers are also expressing their affection for her. The manager said the restaurant is planning a donation to the family. There will also be fundraisers around town for the Polly Klaas Foundation. An organizer says that Alyssa's father wants the money to help other families who go through the torment of a missing child.