Redlands police on Wednesday confirmed that the body found buried in San Timoteo Canyon over the weekend is that of missing Redlands 18-year-old Kelly Laurel Bullwinkle, and investigators now suspect her slaying may have been drug-related.
Police Chief James R. Bueermann promised an intense investigation and said that although a "person of interest" already is in custody on unrelated charges, detectives are aggressively pursuing other leads.
"There's no place you can go and no place you can hide from us," Bueermann said during a morning press conference.
Law enforcement sources confirmed that police recently secured a search warrant to look for evidence of Bullwinkle's alleged involvement in drug activity, including a possible drug buy in the hours before she disappeared. The warrant also named an alleged drug dealer who may be a suspect in the slaying, police said.
"There are a couple individuals we are very interested in. Many of those we've looked at in this case are involved in the drug trade," Bueermann said. "She was involved in the drug subculture."
On Wednesday night, police released a statement saying, "Based on the amount of information we have received to this point, it would appear that Kelly was involved, in some fashion, in the use of illegal drugs, possibly cocaine and methamphetamine."
Bullwinkle, a freshman at Crafton Hills College in Yucaipa, was last seen alive by co-workers at 4:30 p.m. on Sept. 13, when her shift ended at Baker's Burgers in Redlands. Her blue Mazda Protege was found abandoned at Ontario Mills mall later that night, but Bueermann said he is not sure who drove it there.
With the help of dental records, the San Bernardino County coroner's office positively identified Bullwinkle's body Tuesday night and informed her mother, Diana, a short time later.
"We cannot begin to express the anguish and loss we are feeling," her mother said in a written statement released Wednesday. "The joy [Kelly] has brought to all of our lives can never be forgotten."
Redlands Mayor Kasey Haws announced a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or people responsible for the killing.
Authorities did not reveal the cause of death, nor describe the injuries she sustained, but did say that medical examiners have determined that Bullwinkle was probably killed hours after she was last seen at the restaurant.
Bueermann said detectives know where the slaying was committed, but did not reveal that information, saying it might hinder the investigation. The body was found in the canyon by two paintball players Saturday.
Detectives continue to investigate possible links between Bullwinkle and a man who allegedly said he was "involved" in Bullwinkle's disappearance. The man, who has not been named, remains in police custody on unrelated charges.