A leg bone found in the Ohio River last year belonged to a woman who vanished with her two young children in 2002, authorities in Indiana said Tuesday.
The coroner's office in Dearborn County, west of Cincinnati, made the identification of the woman, Stephanie Van Nguyen, after a dive team found her 1997 Nissan Pathfinder submerged in October.
Nguyen, 26, was reported missing in April 2002 after last having been seen with her 3-year-old son and her 4-year-old daughter, Indiana State Police said in a news release.
Nguyen left a note saying she planned to drive into the river and left her family money to pay for her funeral expenses, according to authorities and NBC affiliate WLWT of Cincinnati.
Nguyen's SUV was never found, and investigators pursued the theory that the note may have been a ruse, WLWT reported.
Then, last year, an officer in Delhi Township, Ohio, gave the case another look. Officer Heather Taylor told WLWT that she wanted to see whether new technology could be used to "beat the clock to the 20th anniversary."
"Everybody deserves to come home," Taylor said. "Everybody deserves to be found."
Investigators searched the Ohio River using "side sonar scan" technology, allowing them to examine the riverbed. The process was like "looking for a needle in a haystack in a field of haystacks," she said.
Eventually, the SUV was found 50 feet below the surface, 300 feet from the riverbank, state police said. A registration plate confirmed that the vehicle was Nguyen's.
On Oct. 14, dive teams recovered the SUV and sent it to Indiana State Police to investigate.
Four days later, one bone was found in the SUV — a fibula. Experts at the University of Indiana and the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation later determined that it belonged to Nguyen, the coroner's office said in a statement.
The missing persons cases of her children will remain open unless her family has them declared legally deceased, the coroner's office said. Once the weather improves, divers will return to search for more remains, the coroner said.
"I am happy we were able to finally give Ms. Nguyen's family some closure in this almost two-decade-long search for their loved one," the release said.