The body of a missing suburban woman was found Thursday inside a vehicle in a pond not far from the school where she was a nursing student, officials said.
According to Bourbonnais Deputy Chief David Anderson, investigators found the vehicle upside down and submerged in a pond off Interstate 57 near mile marker 317 between Manteno and Bourbonnais. A deceased woman was found inside matching the description of Schaumburg woman Sheila Khalili, according to authorities.
Hours later, the Kankakee County Coroner's office confirmed the body was identified as the 27-year-old student, who was preparing to enter her fourth and final year of nursing school.
The preliminary cause of death was said to be drowning, pending toxicology, said Coroner Bob Gessner. There were no signs of trauma, Gessner said, but the final cause of death was still pending as of Thursday afternoon.
"The family of Sheila Khalili extends their deepest thanks to the efforts of law enforcement, the media, Olivet Nazarene University as well as the many friends and relatives that contributed their time and efforts to the search for the recovery of Sheila," the Khalili family's attorney Thomas Glasgow said in a statement. "The location of the car and the recovery of Sheila's body gives the family closure and they understand that without the help of law enforcement, the media and the public, they would never have closure in her disappearance."
Glasgow added during a press conference Thursday afternoon that the family was on their way to Bourbonnais to identify the body.
"They are extremely sad but they are also relieved that they ended up having the ability to find their sister and their daughter," he said.
Khalili's body was found after a Kankakee County Sheriff's deputy noticed debris, including a bumper and a mirror, on the side of the roadway during the early morning hours Thursday. Anderson said the parts located were similar to the vehicle they believed Khalili was driving before she went missing Friday night.
"Had this gone unnoticed or had that bumper not been found we may never have found miss Khalili or it may have been years before we ever found out what happened to her," Glasgow said.
Investigators, including a dive team, were at the scene since for hours Thursday. A preliminary investigation indicates it was a single-vehicle traffic accident, police said, but a death investigation was being conducted by the Kane County Coroner.
Khalili, a student at Olivet Nazarene University, hadn't been seen or heard from since last Friday morning. Her cell phone was last pinged along I-57 near an exit in Bourbonnais.
"The University learned this morning from the family and local authorities that Sheila’s car was found just north of Bourbonnais and that Sheila was in the car, having passed away," ONU said in a statement. "We grieve the loss of such a bright young student whose warm heart and passion for serving others was so evident in her life. We are continuing to pray for her family and friends."
The family had earlier announced a $20,000 reward for any information leading to her safe return. At a prayer vigil held Tuesday at the university's campus, Khalili's brother, Bobby, made a desperate plea.
"Our family isn't full without Sheila," he said. "She's the one who's always smiling."