A rare EF3 tornado that swept through Northeast Philadelphia on Thursday might have played a role in locating a body that matches the description of Cassandra "Casey" Johnston, a 26-year-old Bucks County woman who had been missing for three weeks, police said at a press conference on Sunday.
The body was discovered near the Byberry Creek off Townsend Road in Philadelphia. The identity of the body has not been released, but “it appears to match her description,” Lower Southampton Chief of Police Ted Krimmel told reporters.
Casey, who was featured in Dateline NBC’s “Missing in America” on July 26, was reported missing after she didn’t return home from a friend’s house in Philadelphia.
Her parents told Dateline Casey had lost her cell phone earlier in the evening before she went missing.
Chief Krimmel noted on Sunday that if Casey had the phone with her, they would have found her sooner.
Police spent weeks searching for Casey and her car, a silver 2016 Ford Focus with Pennsylvania plates, which she was last seen on video driving.
On Saturday, Casey’s car was located by investigators in a wooded area off Woodhaven Road, near Roosevelt Boulevard in Northeast Philadelphia.
Kevin Ryan, a private investigator hired by the family, had been tracing Casey’s path home by helicopter when he spotted the silver gleam of her Ford Focus in the wooded area.
It's still unclear how the car ended up in the woods, but Chief Krimmel said Sunday that it's possible Casey had trouble maneuvering around a curve.
A preliminary investigation shows Johnston, while driving on Woodhaven Road, crashed the car.
“It appears she didn’t negotiate the curve properly,” Chief Krimmel says, adding, “She went down to the culvert, went airborne up and over the guardrail and she crashed into a tree about 30 feet into the air.”
The discovery of the vehicle led them to additional searches and on Sunday, a body matching Casey’s description was found about a mile from the vehicle.
“During the search this afternoon, members of the Philadelphia Police Marine Unit located the body on the 1200 block of Townsend Road in Philadelphia,” Krimmel said.
Chief Krimmel said investigators believe a rare tornado that touched down in the area on Thursday helped clear tree debris that had made it impossible to spot the vehicle during early searches. He added that recent flooding may have moved the body to the creek.
At this point, police do not suspect foul play.
The Philadelphia Medical Examiner will conduct an autopsy to determine the identity of the body and the exact cause of death.
Casey’s story had been shared thousands of times on social media since she went missing on July 10.
Chief Krimmel previously told Dateline that “a lot of people are looking for her.” He said this wasn’t the outcome they wanted and offered his condolences to the family.