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Missing teacher's car pulled from New Orleans bayou; body inside

Terrilyn Monette, 26, of Long Beach was last seen leaving a bar in New Orleans, Louisiana on Saturday, March 2, 2013.

June 8, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
A missing teacher's car was pulled from a New Orleans bayou Saturday and police said there was a decomposed body inside.

Authorities couldn't immediately say whether the body was Terrilyn Monette, who was last seen leaving a New Orleans bar not far from the bayou in the early morning hours of March 2. She would've had to cross the waterway to get home.

The 26-year-old grew up in Long Beach, but moved to New Orleans a little more than a year ago after graduating from California State University, San Bernardino. Monette was teaching children in impoverished areas as part of the teachNOLA program. The second-grade teacher had just been nominated for a teacher of the year award at Woodland West Elementary School.

Monette's family had been flying back and forth from California to look for her. They attended a prayer vigil Friday and appealed for FBI intervention, accusing the New Orleans Police Department of mishandling the case. The department has denied the accusations.

Monette's mother, Toni Enclade, was among the family members who came to the scene Saturday.

"I don't understand why it took them so long to find her car," Enclade told The Times-Picayune. "This is supposedly one of the first places they would have checked. I'm just overwhelmed. It doesn't make sense."

Louisiana state Rep. Austin Badon helped spearhead the search. He said he and a volunteer diver resurveyed the waterway and found the car.

"We decided to sonar this area again, and more heavily, and it got a hit," Badon told The Associated Press.

A diver got into the water and found the car, which was covered with a film when it was pulled out. Badon described the body as "heavily decomposed."

John Gagliano, the Orleans Parish coroner's chief investigator, said he could not immediately tell if the body was a man or a woman. Gagliano told The Advocate an autopsy will be performed Monday to determine the identity of the body and cause of death.

After going to a bar, her friends left her at her car. They told police she planned to sleep before driving home. She left a parking lot about 5:15 a.m. and a traffic camera captured her making a turn in New Orleans' City Park.

Monette's disappearance sparked a broad search handled in part by the Texas group Equusearch. A number of cars were pulled earlier from Bayou St. John as part of the search, some of which had been reported stolen.

"Unfortunately it wasn't what we were looking for in terms of finding her alive and well, but it does bring the family some closure," Badon said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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