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SPRINGVILLE — Family members of a Provo student missing for three years wept Friday as they staked a wooden cross adorned with red roses on the canyon hillside where her body was recovered a month ago.
Parents, siblings and relatives of Elizabeth Elena Laguna Salgado wore white T-shirts with the 26-year-old's portrait as they gathered about thirty paces from the road in Springville's Hobble Creek Canyon.
"I feel terribly desperate with this situation, to have found my daughter's body was brought here so far away," her mother, Libertad Edith Salgado Figueroa, said in Spanish through a translator. "Someone did this to her and we need to find the person who did this to her. We need earthly justice for someone that took the life of an angel, of a princess, of a warrior."
Police are calling the case a homicide, but have not yet determined the cause of Salgado's death. The English student from Mexico had been missing for three years before her body was discovered by chance.
A hunter driving through the canyon the morning of May 18 walked 30 paces from the road to relieve himself and found a skull and clothing in the brush, authorities said. The Utah State Medical Examiner's Office confirmed they belong to Salgado through dental records.
Figueroa said her visit to the site was meaningful because she had waited so long for any information as leads dried up over the years. The family has pleaded repeatedly for the public's help in finding their daughter and niece after she disappeared on Thursday, April 16, 2015, just weeks after moving from Mexico to Provo to study.
At the memorial Friday, family members prayed and held each other. They placed photos of Salgado and a bouquet on the cross in the small clearing covered with saplings. Several came from Mexico, others from California.
While they were there, Salgado's father, sister and some other family members came across additional bones in the dirt.
A forensic examiner has yet to determine if they belong to Salgado, but "it appears they do," said Utah County Sheriff's Sgt. Spencer Cannon. He collected about 10 of the items in small paper lunch bags.
"This brings us closer to recovering all of the remains," Cannon said.
Despite an exhaustive search by investigators who used trowels to sift through dirt in the area over three days in May, there was more to be recovered. He said other items of evidence have been collected, but declined to give details.
Detectives have interviewed several people but have not identified a suspect, Cannon said. They are following up on hundreds of tips in the case.
"We're methodically working through those," he said. "We're taking them very seriously."
Salgado, 26, of Chiapas, Mexico, came to Utah to study English after serving an LDS mission. She was last seen leaving a language class in Provo on a sunny afternoon. But she never made it back to her apartment just 2 miles away.
The student's family recalled her Friday as a mentor to her siblings who had a routine of calling her sister every day, but communication stopped that afternoon.
The search took investigators to Salgado's hometown in Mexico and other parts of the nation where she served her mission. Early in the case, police excluded two of Salgado's uncles from police updates to family, citing inconsistencies and the outcome of polygraph tests.
The international search proved unnecessary.
The remains turned up 15 miles from where Salgado was last seen, away from hiking trails and in a place where police believe she had never been. She did not have a car.
Investigators believe the remains had been there for years, possibly since she went missing.
"We don't know whether she was killed somewhere else and brought here or whether she was killed here and left here," Cannon said.
"A person could drive by this spot a thousand times and even if they knew what they were looking for, wouldn't be able to see where Elizabeth was found," Cannon continued. "To say looking for something like this would be a needle in a haystack would be a gross understatement."
Salgado's uncle, Rosemberg Salgado, said he felt it was a miracle that his niece was found by the hunter taking a bathroom break, but he is still was grappling with her death.
"Who in the world could have done that? I didn't even know this place existed before," he said.
He has confidence in detectives over the case, he said, and urged anyone who may have information to contact police.
"I feel they're going to be able to find the monster of monsters that did this," he said. "We want to avoid that it will happen to another girl."
Contributing: Ladd Egan