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Alabama woman found dead 12 days after going inside police van, authorities say

“We will get to the truth of what happened to Christina Nance,” civil rights lawyer Benjamin Crump said.

An Alabama police department is under scrutiny after video showed a woman entering one of its vans nearly two weeks before an officer found her dead inside the vehicle.

City cameras recorded the woman, Christina Nance, 29, going inside the van at about 12:30 p.m. on Sept. 25, Huntsville Deputy Police Chief Dewayne McCarver told reporters at a news conference Friday. The vehicle was parked in the rear of police department's public safety complex, officials said.

Nance made it into the van because it was unlocked, which violates department policy and "shouldn't have happened," McCarver said.

It wasn't until Oct. 7, when an officer walked by the van and noticed shoes next to it, that Nance's body was found inside, McCarver said. The windows, which popped outward, were opened.

"What stresses us and pains us ... cars go by. People walk near the van," McCarver said. "We just wish she would have hollered out to someone or something, because there was, unfortunately, potential opportunities for this not to be a tragedy."

The police van, which was purchased in 1995, initially was used to transport inmates to jail, he said. It was more recently used to move evidence to be destroyed in cleared investigations. The van was last used in March.

"Because of its original design, it does not have handles on the inside because it was made for transporting prisoners and inmates," McCarver added. "You cannot exit from the interior of the van."

The Madison County coroner, Dr. Tyler Berryhill, said an autopsy showed no signs of foul play or trauma, police said in a statement. Nance's official cause of death, which will be determined by the state medical examiner, is pending additional tests, including toxicology, police said.

The prominent civil rights lawyer Benjamin Crump is representing Nance's family.

"We will get to the truth of what happened to Christina Nance, the young Black woman found dead in the police van in front of the Huntsville Police Department," Crump said in a statement Wednesday. "We lift up Christina's family with prayer as they mourn this devastating loss."

Nance's family reported her missing on Oct. 2. Investigators believed, incorrectly, that she had last been seen on Sept. 27, McCarver said. The mistake slowed the investigation into Nance's death, he said, noting that investigators sat and watched videos, minute per minute, for hours to learn what occurred.

On Sept. 25, before she entered the van, Nance was seen walking around the parking lot, lying among bushes and sitting on the hood of a police car, police said. Additional video showed that Nance popped open the van's windows on Sept. 28, McCarver said.

Investigators have no way to know what Nance's state of mind was before she entered the van or once she was inside, McCarver said.

The police department's Crisis Intervention Team worked with Nance "in the past to provide resources and different things," McCarver said. Police were "very familiar" with Nance, he said, declining to provide additional details.

Huntsville is about 100 miles north of Birmingham.