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MAGNA — Human remains were located in a suitcase along a freeway Thursday, the Utah Highway Patrol reported.
The remains were located by Utah Department of Transportation workers on I-80 near the Saltair resort just before 3 p.m. The large suitcase was reportedly in a ravine off of the shoulder and not visible from the road.
Provo police confirmed Thursday evening that they are working with investigators in the case, but did not know yet whether the body could be missing Provo woman Elizabeth "Elena" Laguna Salgado.
Provo Police Chief John King said his officers are working with investigators to gather more information.
"We don’t know much about the body’s age, gender or anything like that," said UHP Lt. Jared Garcia. "We need to secure the evidence, process the crime scene, take care of that part of it."
Garcia also said it was unclear how long the body had been there.
UDOT spokesman John Gleason said a crew was putting in a cable barrier along the side of the freeway when they discovered the suitcase and the body. UDOT is working to provide emotional support to those who were present, he said.
A medical examiner was at the scene late Thursday and removed the body for an autopsy.
Salgado was last seen on April 16 leaving the Nomen Global Language Center at 384 W. Center Street in Provo. She was wearing a denim jacket and blue jeans and carrying a denim handbag with red straps. She was wearing knee-high boots that were either black or brown.
Salgado's disappearance raised flags with Provo police, who said evidence shows she didn't stop by her apartment, show up for her job or contact family after leaving the center.
Salgado's mother, Libertad Edith Salgado-Figueroa, and her father, Julio Cesar Laguna Ozuna, arrived in the United States Wednesday on a 15-day permit while they search for their daughter and work with police. They made urgent pleas Thursday asking for anyone with information about her disappearance to come forward.
Salgado-Figueroa said she fears someone has taken her daughter.
"I feel that my daughter has been kidnapped and held hostage at this point," she said through a translator.
She described her daughter as a kind, responsible and ambitious person who moved to the United States to learn English after studying in Mexico to become a civil engineer. Salgado had recently returned from an LDS mission in the Pachuca, Mexico area.
"Our pain is great, we miss our daughter and she has always been a very good daughter since she was very young," Salgado-Figueroa said. "You have no idea what our pain is at this time."
Salgado had been living in Provo for only about a month when she disappeared.
"We pray that Heavenly Father will watch and protect those in the community and the police officers to watch over our daughter," Ozuna said, using a translator. "We pray that our daughter is returned to us before Mother's Day, so that my wife will be able to be reunited (with her). … What an amazing gift that (would) be to us."
Salgado, the third of seven children, always wanted to do the right thing throughout her life, according to her mother. The family has "not been able to rest" since learning Salgado was missing, Salgado-Figueroa said.
"My daughter was a very good student. She always got good grades, she was excellent in all that she did in school and at work," she said. "I don't remember her ever being … negative. She was always very positive and always very pleasant."
King said Thursday that Salgado's case is being pursued urgently by his department. He reiterated that background checks will not be performed on those who come forward with tips about her disappearance.
"We take this case very personally, King said. "This is a lovely daughter (and) sister that we need to find."
Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes also spoke briefly at Thursday's press conference, expressing confidence Salgado can be found.
"We have a tremendous amount of hope, we are keeping Elizabeth and her family in our prayers," Reyes said. "We have a tremendous amount of faith and … a tremendous amount of faith in our law enforcement personnel, who will do everything in their power to bring her home."
About 300 volunteers searched Saturday for Salgado or signs of her disappearance. They scoured neighborhoods along the route she walked between school and her apartment, in the area near the Mexican restaurant where she worked as well as several miles of the Provo River Parkway.
Anyone with information about Salgado's disappearance or whereabouts should call Provo police immediately at 801-852-6210.