Jerika Binks, disappeared February 18, 2018, Remains discovered April 14, 2019 (a mile northwest of the Swinging Bridge picnic area), Timpanogos Cave National Monument trail, American Fork Canyon, Utah.
See update below April 2019
Jerika Binks, 24, was last seen on February 18th, 2018. She was staying at a residential treatment / integrated recovery centre near North County Boulevard in American Fork, Utah. She told a roommate at around 9am she was planning to go for a run in the Timpanogos Cave National Monument. She was a keen long distance runner and often visited the park. On that day she vanished and she remains missing, either as a result of foul play, misadventure in the wilderness or other unknown factors
Timpanogos Cave National Monument is a United States National Monument protecting the Timpanogos Cave Historic District and a cave system on Mount Timpanogos in the Wasatch Mountains in American Fork Canyon near American Fork in Utah.
The site is managed by the National Park Service. The 1.5-mile (2.4 km) trail to the cave is steep, gaining close to 1,000 feet (300 m), but paved and fairly wide, so the caves are accessible to most. The three caves of the system, one of which is specifically called Timpanogos Cave, are only viewable on guided tours when the monument is open, usually from May through September depending on snow conditions and funding.
Jerika left behind her ID and bank card and all her possessions apart from her cell phone, AirPods and water which she took on the run, according to her mother, Suzanne Westring.
It was common for Jerika to go running but she would always return back to the integrated recovery centre at a reasonable time. She voluntarily lived there for multiple reasons, for several months, and had been doing well with her treatment (exact issue unknown). She was known to occasionally leave the centre and meet with boyfriends. She used her Snapchat account to meet an individual approximately one week before she went missing, but that man was tracked down by detectives who determined that he was not involved in the case.
She is a white, female, 5-foot-4, 120 pounds with brown hair and brown eyes. She was wearing black five-toed running shoes and a two-toned hooded sweatshirt, with dark grey on the back and light grey on the front and dark green leggings.
Her mother, Suzanne, spoke to Jerika the day before she disappeared on the run. The two planned to go car shopping. But when the treatment centre called and said Jerika never returned, she grew very concerned believing that some sort of foul play befell her daughter as the only explanation.
In May 2018 new photo evidence concerning Jerika's disappearance was released, three months after she vanished. Images captured by a wildlife camera owned by the NPS showed her running down the National Timpanogos Cave Trail and up American Fork Canyon on February 18th around 1:30 p.m.
This NPS camera was placed on the closed Timpanogos Trail in fall 2017, and retrieved March 27th, 2018. They were taken in an area that was closed to the public for the winter about halfway up the trail. When park staff downloaded the images, they recognised a woman matching Binks’ description in photos date stamped as February 18, the reported date of her disappearance. The photos were immediately turned over to the Utah County Sheriff's Office.
In his post on the Finding Jerika Facebook page, Jed Binks, Jerika’s brother, said the family has been “waiting for a month to release these photos. Out of respect, and not wanting to step on anyone’s toes who are aiding in the investigation. That’s why our searches have been so dedicated to this area.”
“They say it’s her coming down the trail, there is not footage of her coming up, which leads us to believe she gained access to the trail elsewhere. Furthermore, that leads us to believe someone showed her an entrance prior to her run that day.”
The family released the photos without the knowledge of investigators. Utah County Sheriff's Sgt. Spencer Cannon said deputies believe someone in the family snapped photos with their cellphone while investigators privately showed them the pictures on a computer. The reason the sheriff's office did not want the photos released was to avoid compromising the investigation should Binks' disappearance turn out to be a criminal matter.
A cell phone ping registered in Saratoga Springs at the mouth of American Fork Canyon at 10am, around the same time as she headed up the canyon. The family believes she may have accessed the trail elsewhere.
The family and other donors offered a $10,000 reward for information about Jerika’s disappearance.
Since her disappearance, family and friends have spent hundreds of hours walking routes she might have taken, reviewing drone and video surveillance footage from various businesses and homes. Using cellphone tower triangulation data, the family narrowed down the possible routes and areas she might have been in, including routes north of American Fork Hospital, along 4800 West/North County Boulevard, east along State Route 92, and trails and roads crossing the Cedar Hills Golf Course in between.
Using video footage from the Utah State Developmental Center that very possibly shows her running, the family extrapolated Jerika’s running speed at about an 8.8 mile pace. With that pace, she could not have made it to the American Fork Canyon by 10 a.m. But, if the ping data had a margin of error of about 10 minutes, then it possible she could have made it there running. That timing could mean a difference of if Binks made it to the canyon and possibly had an accident, or if she was possibly attacked and carried there in a vehicle, or even if her phone was stolen and moved without her.
A major search of the park and surrounding area lasting several days was conducted by the Sheriff’s Office and highly trained search and rescue teams. The search included helicopters, drones, dog teams and ground searchers rappelling through steep terrain. On weekends and evenings during fair weather in March and April, the family searched the area.
Adjacent scree slopes, animal trails and other possible but unauthorised routes were also searched multiple times. The cave trail gate is locked from below but can be opened from above at all times, leaving open the possibility that she continued down the trail and left the park.
Despite the efforts of professional search teams, family and volunteers, the disappearance remains a mystery and there have been no solid leads for detectives working on the case. Foul play has not been ruled out, according to the Sheriff’s Office. It is unknown what route Jerika took to get above the locked NPS gate and into the closed part of the hiking trail where the photos were taken.
She was clearly alive and well at 1.30 pm when the NPS pictures of Jerika running down the trail were taken. What happened to her after that? Investigators do not have any evidence about happened to Binks, including whether she was abducted, ran away, or whether she was injured somewhere and trapped.
A series of search warrant affidavits has been filed since her disappearance including social media accounts. In one warrant, investigators looked at a second possible sighting of Binks on the same Timpanogos trail taken a few weeks before she went missing. In the photo, a woman with similar features as Binks is seen walking with a man. Police later determined that the woman in the photo was not her.
On the day Jerika disappeared, she left two uncashed checks in her bedroom along with her ID and debit card. She left her cellphone charger and her room was tidy indicating that she probably did not run away or leave town voluntarily. Detectives also checked her bank accounts and found "no activity" since February 18 nor any suspicious activity on her credit union account.
Another case of a runner who mysteriously vanished was Amy Wroe Bechtel in the Shoshone National Forest in Wyoming in 1997. Theories included that she was killed by her husband or the Great Basin Serial Killer, Dale Wayne Eaton. Read more at: Link to Amy Wroe Bechtel story.
Update April 2019
On Sunday April 14th, 2019, a 70 year old local hiker came across the skeletal remains of a body, along with several personal items including shoes, running clothes, and a cellphone, in a ravine near Jerika’s last known location. Local police announced the discovery on Monday 15th, and confirmed the body was that of Jerika Binks on the 17th after a completed medical examination.
The man who found the remains was an experienced local hiker who has explored the area for years, and had never been to that spot before. She was located 850 feet in elevation gain (a distance of about 2500 feet) above the road in a wash/ravine on the North side of the canyon in an area above Swinging Bridge.
The area was well outside of those searched by Search and Rescue, the family & volunteers, and all drone searches. While searches covered lower parts of that area, it was easily 2000 feet outside of these search locations. It is an area that really does not have developed trails and is not a common hiking route.
Authorities did not confirm an official cause of death, but a statement from the Utah County Sheriff’s Office said Binks suffered “a serious break to both bones in the lower part of one of her legs.” Police do not believe foul play was involved in her death and the most likely theory remains that she decided to explore beyond the area’s manmade paths, and suffered an accidental fall.
The location of Binks’s body helps to explain why a robust search effort after her disappearance failed to find anything, being located halfway up a steep ravine, away from any trails or manmade structures, around a mile northwest of the Swinging Bridge picnic area, which is half a mile down the road from the trailhead where Binks was last seen.