RENO, Nev. (AP) — The search for a missing 19-year-old California woman who disappeared on New Year's Eve at Lake Tahoe ended Friday when her body was found behind a snow bank about a mile from the site of a music festival she attended that night, authorities said.
Alyssa Byrne of Petaluma may have tried to walk three miles in freezing weather to the hotel where she was staying, and became disoriented or lost, Douglas County Undersheriff Paul Howell said. Her body was found along a road.
The cause of death has not yet been determined, but neither foul play nor suicide is suspected, he said.
Howell noted other concertgoers decided to walk back to a hotel in Stateline, a tourist destination on Lake Tahoe's south shore, because there were long lines for shuttle buses.
Nighttime temperatures have plunged to zero in the area in the past week, with daytime highs still well below freezing.
"If exposed to the elements you could succumb to that," Howell told The Associated Press. "We won't speculate on that (hypothermia) as the cause of death, but we're hoping to get an answer from the autopsy."
The autopsy also will determine whether alcohol or drugs were a factor, he said.
Byrne's disappearance prompted a dayslong effort by search and rescue teams, friends and family members who posted fliers and urged anyone with information on her whereabouts to come forward.
Byrne's father, Kevin Byrne, issued a statement Friday thanking those who helped.
"Our entire family is devastated," the statement said. "We were still holding out hope that she would be found safe. We will miss Alyssa and she will be in our hearts forever."
Chanel Kelly, a friend who was on the New Year's Eve trip in Tahoe, told reporters outside the Byrne home in Petaluma that the tragedy is everybody's worst nightmare.
"At the end of the day she's always responsible and safe, but this is one time that she wasn't," Kelly said.
Byrne worked as a hostess at Cattlemens restaurant in Petaluma, about 40 miles north of San Francisco, and was taking classes at Santa Rosa Junior College's Petaluma campus to become a firefighter/paramedic.
A utility worker found her body around 8:30 a.m. Friday along Pioneer Trail, a major thoroughfare on Tahoe's south shore, Douglas County sheriff's Sgt. Pat Brooks said. Her body was just off the roadway but obstructed from view by the snow bank.
The discovery was made about a mile southeast of the festival venue at Lake Tahoe Community College. Stateline hotel-casinos are some three miles east of the campus. Tens of thousands of young revelers gather in the area annually to ring in the new year.
Byrne was in South Lake Tahoe with friends to attend the outdoor SnowGlobe Music Festival, which drew 40,000 people over a three-day run. They were staying at the Horizon Casino Resort in Stateline.
Friends had told authorities that they last saw Byrne in a bar at the resort about 12:30 a.m. Tuesday, but Howell later discounted that report and said Byrne never made it back to the hotel. He said it's not unusual for friends to become separated at major events.
Cellphone records show her last call that night was made from the vicinity of the concert, Howell said.
"We know she left the event, but we don't know where she was last seen," Howell said. "We'll talk to people who thought they saw her and try to determine what led to her death."
Howell dismissed angst-filled tweets concerning a falling-out with a friend the day of her disappearance, saying they were not believed to be a factor in her death.
Festival organizers issued a statement saying the investigation is ongoing and they are working with authorities to learn more.
"We are deeply saddened to learn of the death of Alyssa Byrne," the statement said. "Our deepest sympathies go out to Alyssa's family and friends."
The festival website urges concertgoers to be prepared for cold temperatures, and not to attempt to walk or hitchhike to and from the event.
Parking is prohibited at the festival, and attendees must buy a pass for shuttle bus service for transportation, the website says.
Festival producer Chad Donnelly told the Tahoe Daily Tribune that he plans to refine the shuttle service and develop ways to shorten the lines that formed at security, but overall the event went as predicted. The festival tilts toward electronic dance music but also features rap, hip-hop and electro-funk.
South Lake Tahoe City Manager Nancy Kerry didn't immediately return a phone call seeking comment. The city approved a permit for the festival.
Lake Tahoe Community College issued a statement saying a memorial fund in Byrne's name has been set up with the college's foundation to assist her family.
"Administrators from the college are cooperating with authorities to assist with the ongoing investigation," the statement said.
Chereb reported from Carson City, Nev.