Divers recovered a body Tuesday afternoon matching the description of Brissa Romero after the 17-year-old girl went missing over a week ago in Vernon Hills.
The Countryside Fire Protection District around 7:30 a.m. Tuesday activated the Mutual Aid Box Alarm System (MABAS), bringing in specialized dive and sonar equipment from fire departments throughout Lake County and McHenry County.
The search effort entered its second day focused at a retention pond near Executive Way and Lakeview Parkway in Vernon Hills.
The fire district, just before 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, activated a second MABAS Box Alarm response specifically for area fire department divers.
A body was located and recovered from the water, according to Vernon Hills Deputy Police Chief Shannon Holubetz said.
Holubetz said the body matches the description of Romero but positive identification is pending.
The Lake County Coroner’s Office was notified and is in the process of responding to the scene and scheduling an autopsy.
“The men and women of both the Carpentersville and Vernon Hills Police Departments worked diligently and with sincere hope for Brissa’s safe return since she was reported missing,” Holubetz said.
“The Departments thank Brissa’s family, friends, and members of the community who worked to bring awareness to Brissa’s case and offer their deepest condolences to the Romero family,” Holubetz said.
The deputy police chief said no further leads regarding Romero’s whereabouts are being pursued following the discovery of the body.
During a press conference late Monday afternoon, Vernon Hills Chief of Police Patrick Kreis said an analysis of Romero’s cellphone data led investigators to the pond Monday morning.
A police supervisor arrived on the scene and met with a resident, who had been walking around the bank of the pond.
The resident pointed out a backpack that was floating along the edge of the pond, Kreis said.
The officer found the backpack belonged to Romero, 17, of Carpentersville.
Kreis said Romero’s 2008 Nissan Rogue was located by fire crews the same afternoon submerged in the pond, but the girl was not inside it.
“Based on the condition of the vehicle and all of the evidence we have at this point, it appears Brissa was in that vehicle when it drove into the lake,” Kreis said.
Investigators found video footage from a fast food restaurant approximately a mile away from the pond that captured Romero parking her vehicle on the evening she went missing.
She walked into the restaurant and walked out of it by herself, the video showed.
Kreis said she then drove away from the restaurant about 15 minutes before her phone last pinged to the pond.
The video from the restaurant is one of the reasons investigators believe Romero was operating the vehicle when it drove into the pond.
Dulce Romero, the girl’s sister, spoke at the press conference and said she was thankful for everyone in the community who has helped spread the word on the case. She was joined by dozens of friends and family members.
Ernie’s Wrecker Service pulled the Nissan out of the water Monday evening and investigators from the Lake County Major Crash Assistance Team (MCAT) were seen surrounding the car conducting an investigation.
Kreis said the deepest part of the pond is just under 20 feet, which is also the area where Romero’s vehicle went into.
“The vehicle traveled as much as 60 feet into the pond,” Kreis added.
The police chief said the area where the car went into the pond was at a “T” intersection.
“From the preliminary review of what happened, it really appears like this is a case where a driver, unfamiliar with the area, failed to navigate a turn and went through the intersection, down an embankment, into the pond,” Kreis said.
There are no barriers at the end of the roadway that would keep a vehicle from driving into the pond.
The vehicle, which had its rear hatch open and at least one of the windows broken, was towed to a controlled location so evidence technicians could examine it.
Vernon Hills Deputy Police Chief Shannon Holubetz told Lake and McHenry County Scanner on Monday that there were no indications of foul play.
Romero went missing on December 4 on her way to a holiday work party at Bowlero in Vernon Hills, according to Carpentersville Deputy Police Chief Kevin Stankowitz.
She was a graduate of Barrington High School and a current student at Harper College in Palatine.