Search teams working in Shenandoah National Park on Thursday discovered a body believed to be that of a Fairfax County firefighter whose car was found in the park on Saturday.
Virginia State Police preliminarily identified the body as that of Nicole K. Mittendorff, 31, of Woodbridge. Officials also said the search for her had been suspended. The discovery followed six days of intensive searching for Mittendorff in a heavily forested area.
Officials said a note found in Mittendorff’s car and other evidence leads them to believe Mittendorff did not die as a result of foul play.
Virginia State Police said in a news release that the remains were discovered in a remote location a little more than a mile from the Whiteoak Canyon Trail parking area where Mittendorff’s Mini Cooper was parked. Virginia State Police and National Park Service personnel discovered the body about 2 p.m., about 330 yards from the trail in treacherous rocky terrain, officials said. Investigators were still processing the scene on Thursday evening.
Mittendorff’s family wrote in a statement that they were devastated.
“Our hearts are broken,” the statement read. “We believe that Nicole has been found and is finally coming home, however not in the way we anticipated. This is not the positive outcome that we continued to hope and pray for over the past week.”
Mittendorff was last in touch with her family a little over a week ago. Virginia State Police said Wednesday that physical and digital evidence they have collected has been critical in focusing the search operations in recent days.
Mittendorff’s family had previously said files on her cellphone that were given to law enforcement officials Wednesday might provide key evidence. State police have declined to comment on what that evidence is, and the family would not discuss it.
The body was being transported to the Office of the Medical Examiner in Manassas for autopsy and positive ID, Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said in an e-mail Thursday night.
“The physical and digital evidence collected during the course of this investigation — to include a note recovered from her car — leads us to believe there was no foul play involved in her death,” Geller said.
The discovery of the body came a day after family members and colleagues held a vigil in Burke at Fire Station 32, where Mittendorff worked as a firefighter and paramedic.
“I, along with the men and women of the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department, are profoundly saddened to learn that the body found earlier today . . . is thought to be that” of Mittendorff, said Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department chief Richard Bowers. “We continue to extend our thoughts and prayers to Nicole’s friends and family.”
Relatives said they last had contact with her via a text message shortly before 11 a.m. on April 13. Fairfax County fire department officials said she called in sick that day. Mittendorff was officially reported missing when she failed to show up for work last Friday. A park ranger found her car on Saturday night, and the searches for her began in the park. They involved aircraft, dogs and trained search teams.
Mittendorff’s family surmised that she may have traveled to the Shenandoah to train because she is an avid runner and triathlete.
Mittendorff’s disappearance drew an outpouring of support from her colleagues. Mittendorff’s husband is a Virginia State Police trooper, and her brother-in-law is a firefighter in Fairfax County.