PORTLAND, Ore. – Two bodies found in a forested park in Portland have been identified as a missing 15-year-old girl and a 23-year-old man who was the subject of a sexual abuse investigation involving the teenager, police said Friday.
Autopsies confirmed the bodies were those of Annieka Vaughan of Aloha, Ore., and Zachary Petersen of Pasco, Wash.
The bodies were found Wednesday by a cadaver dog about 80 feet off a steep trail in Forest Park, hidden from sight in a tree well, authorities have said.
Evidence recovered during the autopsies showed that Petersen shot Vaughan and then shot himself, police said Friday in a news statement.
Vaughan’s father, Rick Vaughan, said at a news conference Friday that parents should not make their children feel like they will get into trouble if they need to talk about something.
His daughter was preparing for the homecoming dance, and in his last conversation with her, she gave no sign that anything was amiss, he said.
“Ask questions and don’t jump to conclusions. … Love your children, give them the opportunity to feel safe at home so that they can open up to you, that they can confide in you,” he said, clutching a photo of himself with his daughter at a basketball game when she was 8.
“Love your kids. Hug your kids. Let them know they’re loved. Keep them close.”
Vaughan ran away Oct. 30. Petersen disappeared the same day after calling a crisis line in his hometown.
He was believed to be armed and suicidal and was under investigation in a sex abuse case in which Vaughan was the alleged victim, authorities have said.
Someone spotted Petersen’s truck on Monday in a gravel lot in Forest Park that was about a 10-minute walk from where their bodies were later discovered. Vaughan’s backpack was inside the abandoned truck.
Benton County Sheriff’s Sgt. Bob Brockman told the Tri-City Herald that Petersen was under investigation for child rape after the two were found having sex in a car near Kennewick last month. The relationship started in August, he said.
The sheriff’s office was about to send the case to prosecutors when Vaughan and Petersen went missing, Brockman said.
Brockman did not immediately return an email from The Associated Press on Friday.
Vaughan expressed thanks to law enforcement and the public for their help finding his daughter quickly.
“This is the worst possible situation anyone could go through. But we’re blessed to have the result that we had as quickly as we got it,” he said. “Some people never get that resolved, and we’re thankful to everyone who helped us find Annie.”