A submerged car found during a police dive team training exercise Thursday evening has been confirmed to belong to missing Alabama woman Danniella Vian, according to police.
In a press conference early Friday morning, Mobile Police Department Chief Lawrence Battiste did not comment on the specifics of what divers could see inside the car, but said authorities are “speculating” Danniella’s remains are inside the vehicle.
“The Mobile Police Department and the Saraland Police Department dive team were doing training in this area,” Chief Battiste said. “They looked at [the car] a little bit closer and when they looked at it a little bit closer, they were able to see [things] that were unique to Danniella’s vehicle. They came to the conclusion that this is the vehicle that Danniella Vian would have been driving.”
Recovery teams and tow trucks are on the scene at Bayou Sara, according to local NBC affiliate WPMI. It’s unclear how long it will take to move the vehicle from the water, but Chief Battiste says it will be a “long, methodical process” for the crews.
“Because of the unique situation we are dealing with – we’re dealing with a vehicle that’s in the water – we have to treat it as though it is a crime scene. [The] uniqueness of the situation that we’re dealing with this morning requires us to be extremely cautious and methodical about what we do,” Chief Battiste said.
Let our news meet your inbox. The news and stories that matters, delivered weekday mornings.
Authorities are using sonar and GPS equipment to assess the vehicle’s position and state before bringing it out of the water.
“We’re talking about a vehicle that’s been missing and person that’s been missing for almost a year. Once we make a decision to move that vehicle, because of the length of time that Danniella’s been missing, we have to take into account the potential decomposition that might have taken place,” Chief Battiste said. “And so we have to make sure that as we move that vehicle, we don’t lose any evidence whatsoever that may be critical to us pursuing, at some point, a criminal investigation.”
Chief Battiste reiterated there is “a lot [authorities] still have to do” in the investigation.
“We wanted to make a recovery of Danniella, but we didn’t want to make a recovery of Danniella in this manner,” he said. “It is her vehicle but we cannot say with 100% certainty at this time that it’s her in the vehicle.”
As Dateline has previously reported, Danniella was last seen at a gas station in Mobile, Alabama on July 17, 2018 in her 2014 deep blue Chevy Cruze. The gas station is about 30 minutes south of where Danniella’s car was found.
Family reported her missing after not hearing from the 25-year-old mother for a couple of days.
Danniella’s daughter, Cora, is being raised by Julie Thomas, who is the mother of Danniella’s boyfriend Tyler Thomas. Julie told Dateline in October of 2018 that while her granddaughter has lived with her since she was born, Tyler and Danniella have always been a big part of Cora’s life.
Julia told Dateline that her son Tyler was in jail on unrelated charges when Danniella disappeared.
“He has guilt of not being there with her to protect her when she went missing. So, of course, he is very mad. He’s dealing with every emotion,” Julie told Dateline in October of 2018. “He is worried that Cora’s not going to have a mom. He is going to have to be the mom and the dad.”
As recovery efforts continue, Chief Battiste said teams are working to give closure to Danniella’s family.
“Our goal as a department is always to try to bring a family closure,” he said. “I am thankful that we can at least say to them that we have hopefully made a recovery. I am not happy that we have to say it’s under these circumstances.”
If you have any information on the circumstances surrounding Danniella’s disappearance or how her car got to Bayou Sara, please call the Mobile Police Department at 251-208-1862 or 251-208-7000. To remain anonymous, please call Crime Stoppers of South West Alabama at 251-208-7000.
Bianca Hillier covers missing person and homicide cases for NBC News.