TRUCKEE, Calif. - The mystery surrounding the disappearance of 16-year-old Kiely Rodni may have been solved thanks to a volunteer dive team.
Kiely went missing weeks ago after attending a large party at a Sierra Nevada campground, authorities said.
Volunteer divers with a sonar-equipped group called Adventures with Purpose said they found a body on Sunday inside her car, which they said came to rest upside down under about 14 feet (4.2 meters) of water in Prosser Reservoir, about 55 feet (16.7 meters) offshore.
Adventures with Purpose search members Doug Bishop and Nick Rinn briefly described the search in a Facebook livestream Monday morning. Rinn said they were limited in the scope of details they could release.
Bishop said they put two sonar boats in the water at 10:40 a.m. and by 11:15 a.m. Rinn detected an object with sonar technology. Bishop said he was able to confirm it was a vehicle. Rinn put on his gear and conducted the dive to examine the car.
"Once we confirmed it was indeed Kiely’s vehicle we immediately notified family, law enforcement and (the teen’s) dad and grandpa were on scene within minutes," Bishop said.
Nevada County Sheriff Shannan Moon said Monday that the body had not been identified yet but "we believe it is our missing person."
NCSO Capt. Sam Brown would not say whether there were any signs of foul play discovered in Rodni's car. An autopsy is scheduled for Tuesday.
Meanwhile, he said, the law enforcement task force also needs to determine how and why Adventures with Purpose divers found the body despite searches in the area by the task force. He said it was not yet clear whether the volunteer group had better equipment or advanced training — or both — that the sheriffs’ offices and other agencies may not have.
What is "Adventures with Purpose"?
Bishop is the lead diver and investigator with Adventures with Purpose — a group of volunteer divers who travel across the country and look for clues underwater in hopes of cracking missing persons’ cold cases.
The Bend, Oregon-based group said they have solved 22 cases since formally launching two years ago.
The 10-member group not only consists of divers but also production crewmembers who film every search and rescue, posting videos on YouTube and other social media pages.
Their services are also free for law enforcement and families. The team is funded with donations.
From environmentalists to search-and-rescuers
Bishop said Adventures with Purpose actually started out as an environmentalist group. The founder, Jared Leisek, was into diving and cleaning up waterways to help clean the environment.
"His efforts led to a vehicle being discovered underwater here in the city of Portland, Oregon," Bishop previously told FOX Television Stations. "Then he started focusing on just pulling vehicles out."
Leisek then paired up with Bishop, who owned a towing company, to start pulling vehicles from the water for environmental purposes. They also used sonar equipment.
But one of the vehicles they pulled out contained human remains. When word got out, people started calling the pair, believing their missing loved ones may, too, be underwater.
One of their first tragic finds was the body of Ethan Kazmerzak in 2020. His mother found out about the duo and asked them if they could help find her 22-year-old son who had gone missing sometime in September 2013.
The mother directed the men to an Iowa pond.
"We ended up going out there and working off her hunch of where she felt her son might be ... we ended up finding her son," Bishop said.
The men documented their find and then the requests from other families of missing people started pouring in.
"Little did we know it ... we’re working in a gray area that’s not really being done," Bishop continued.
How the group interact with police
Bishop said many people assume that officers are sending divers out to search for missing people underwater but said that’s mostly not the case.
He said the use and understanding of sonar equipment are what separate the group from law enforcement. Bishop said sonar equipment can reveal what’s underwater that human eyes cannot see because it’s too dark.
"There’s no school, really that exists, that teaches sonar," Bishop said, adding that he and the team have had to learn the equipment as they go on missions.
Bishop said many police departments may have sonar equipment but may not understand all the technicalities that go along with it.
"I’ve had a lot of agencies reach out to me for help," he added.
For instance, Bishop said many agencies searched the same waters for Jed Hall. Bishop and the team were able to find his vehicle in Snake River in Idaho. According to EastIdahoNews.com, the 16-year-old went missing in 2018. Human remains were found in the car and are currently being identified.
NamUS: 600K people go missing every year in the US
According to National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs), a branch of the U.S. Justice Department, 600,000 people go missing every year in the U.S.
Currently, there are no well-known databases that estimate how many of the missing people are believed to be underwater.
However, Bishop said he believes a huge fraction of missing people is deep down in the country’s waterways.
"There’s a lot of people that are missing, underwater in America," Bishop said. "I would estimate probably several thousand people."
"It happens all the time," he continued. "Whether it’s an accident, whether it’s a suicide, murder."
Bishop said many of the cases the team has solved are accidents, but some of the finds are tied to criminal cases.
Bishop added that he and Leisek didn’t set out to become a well-known search-and-rescue team.
"We have developed a set of skills that have led us in this direction," he said.
"I guess there is something there that’s extra in the universe that has guided us together on this journey to help mend families," he added. "We’re just good guys trying to do good in the world."
This story was reported from Los Angeles.