Dateline   |  August 16, 2013

Under the Desert Sky, Part 3

A searcher notices fresh tire tracks in the desert which lead to a grim discovery.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> day three. 36 hours since mickey costanzo left school and vanished. search teams prowled the desert beyond sight of wendover's neon casinos, faint hope. the empty basin sprawls 180,000 square miles and then saturday morning one of the searchers noted something that looked sort of odd out here in the middle of nowhere . fresh tire tracks veering off the dusty, desert road . he followed them.

>> he stated he seen some stage brush that seemed disturbed that was covering some ground so he looked underneath the sagebrush and saw what he thought appeared to be blood and decided he needed to call the authorities. this is the area they call the gravel pits. police took the camera to record what they might find there.

>> you move the sagebrush and gently dug into the area and found what we thought was part of a human body .

>> did you just uncover the body then? no. no. we backed out of the area and contacted the crime unit to come in and exhume that area for evidence.

>> crime scene investigators from --

>> reno.

>> reno was 400 miles away , nine hours by car. still nothing more to do until they arrived so they sealed off the area and waited. just as mickey 's sister christina, still searching , drove by.

>> i just felt like your heart sink. i saw the unmarked police car driving on the gravel pit road that i was on the night before, and i just -- i just sunk.

>> only one thing that could mean.

>> so she rushed home and went to pick up her mother and went to see the police chief and he said, we've found a body. so we called off the search and i guess out of hope, i said, well, can you see her? and he said, no. i said, well, then you don't know it's her. he said, you're right, christina, but she's the only one missing so we're pretty sure it's her.

>> but they couldn't know for sure, said the chief, until the forensics team arrived the next morning.

>> and i said, you're going leave her out here again all night? he said, yes, we have to, and i remember saying then i'm not leaving. and he told us we had to, and he said i'll have somebody out here all of the time, and i said, it shouldn't be strangers. she shouldn't be left with strangers. so then to look at me and tell me we'll all be here. she won't be alone. made me feel pretty good. as good as you can feel.

>> then police made it public. shallow grave was discovered. the contents of which are unknown.

>> because the discovery was outside city limits , the case came out of the jurisdiction of the sheriff's department 110 miles away in nevada. detective kevin mckinney raced down i-80 and met the forensics team the next morning.

>> we started sifting and it didn't take very long once it started.

>> it was mickey . in a shallow grave , beneath a clump of sagebrush five miles from home .

>> it was very emotional. the age of the victim and the brutality, i guess, disturbing would be the word.

>> mickey had been beaten, cut, stabbed, repeatedly.

>> several jagged slashes across her face, neck, head, the blood loss had saturated the ground underneath her.

>> it was kind of personal.

>> uh-huh. it was very aggressive. it was not a precision type of injury.

>> and then those policemen had to go to mickey 's family and tell them what they found.

>> my heart sank to the pit of my stomach, and i screamed and i just dropped, and i just kept screaming.

>> the one thing i will never, ever forget in my entire life is watching my daughter d.j. scream the scream i haven't heard from her even as a baby and fall to the ground in shock and disbelief. she physically did what i felt like i wanted to do, but i couldn't do it because i'm the mom, and i had to keep myself together. i had to be the strong one.

>> and so she had a news conference and said what at this point everybody in town was thinking.

>> please, ladies and gentlemen , this is not over yet until the person or persons responsible for brought to justice.

>> but why mickey of all people? not an enemy in the world, at least as far as anybody knew, and yet here at the crime scene , one clue. one weird, awful clue.

>> there was a zip tie that was bound around her wrist.

>> what did that say to you?

>> it indicated to me that she was restrained and was likely taken from the school.

>> somebody kidnapped her with unimaginable brutality, but how and why? then another clue. one of the officers going through surveillance videos from the school found the grainy image of mickey just outside the girls' locker room and she wasn't alone.