Oregon-based divers discovered the body of missing California teen Kiely Rodni and her car last month submerged in a reservoir, and now the search team’s lead investigator says he suspects foul play.
“It doesn’t add up,” Doug Bishop told Fox News Digital of the circumstances of 16-year-old Rodni’s death. “It reeks of foul play.”
Kiely was last seen alive Aug. 6 at a high school send-off party with more than 300 people at a campground in Tahoe National Forest in Truckee, California.
It wasn’t until a civilian dive team with a popular YouTube channel arrived Aug. 21 that her body and car were located using sonar technology in a reservoir that had already been searched just a quarter mile from the site of the gathering.
Adventures with Purpose delivered the grim news to Rodni’s family and a dose of embarrassment to law enforcement.
The for-profit group, which sells everything from T-shirts to fishing magnets emblazoned with the company’s logo, also has its share of critics.
“To me, they’re monetizing and commercializing missing people,” said Tammy Watters of Sonar Search and Recovery, a nonprofit she runs with her husband Dennis that assists law enforcement.
On the day she went missing, Rodni sent her mother a text at 11:30 p.m. saying she’d be home in 45 minutes. At around 12:33 p.m., her phone pinged for the last time, and she and her silver Honda CRV vanished.
Authorities launched an expansive search involving 18 local, state and federal agencies that spent over 19,000 man hours using divers, boats equipped with sonar and helicopters to locate Rodni. But two weeks of searching turned up few clues.
The circumstances of Rodni’s disappearance were so puzzling investigators began probing the case as a possible abduction.
Bishop, a former tow truck driver turned sonar expert, and his colleague, scuba instructor Nick Rinn, arrived with two videographers and a producer to film their search efforts.
They combed Prosser Reservoir using sonar and located Rodni and the car after just 35 minutes.
The small SUV was upside down under 14 feet of water about 55 feet from the shore, with Rodni’s remains in the rear cargo portion of the vehicle.
The dramatic moment was captured on a YouTube documentary the group released, which has drawn more than 2 million views.
“She’s in the back of the vehicle. She’s not in the driver’s seat. It looks suspicious to me,” Rinn said.
It was the first time Rinn had located a body or a car underwater.
“It was so shocking because I couldn’t believe we came in after all that time and found it,” he told Fox News Digital. “It was also a sad moment, a very emotional moment for all of us involved. No one wants to tell a parent, ‘We found your daughter and she’s not coming home.’”
The young girl’s father, Daniel Rodni, was also stunned. “Right there?” the dad can be heard asking on the documentary. “How in the f— could they have missed it!”
“They missed her because of their lack of expertise and communication,” Bishop told Fox News Digital of the law enforcement search.
Adventures with Purpose, which primarily operates off public donations, has solved 24 cold cases in two years, Bishop said.
“No matter where we solve a case, it creates drama, controversy and embarrassment,” he added.
The group uses sonar, the same technology local officials deployed in their search, which sends sound waves into the water that rebound when they strike an object and create an image.
Bishop attributes his success to constant field experience. While most law enforcement agencies might use sonar once or twice a year to pull a car out of the water, Adventures with Purpose does so with far more frequency.
The company was founded by Jared Leisek, a diver whose initial objective was to clean up the marine environment by pulling abandoned cars from waterways.
He teamed up with Bishop in 2019, who had a tow truck company at the time. They filmed their efforts, and viewers suggested they look for missing people — and they did.
Bishop said they use small boats that can maneuver close to the shore, making it less likely that they miss an object when scanning a body of water. In addition, he asserted that his group has honed a unique expertise in interpreting sonar images.
A car that has been submerged for an extended period of time has buildup and sediment that makes it easier to identify as a vehicle.
When the sound waves bounce off a newly submerged object, it shows up as a bright flash that many people wouldn’t interpret accurately, he said.
Was There Foul Play?
Bishop is convinced that Rodni’s tragic demise was no accident.
For her vehicle to end up where it did, she would have to take a sharp left turn onto a rough dirt path about a quarter mile from the main road.
Witnesses said she drank alcohol that night, but Bishop says she knew the area well and still would not have accidentally plunged into the reservoir.
Authorities haven’t yet released her autopsy or toxicology reports.
Even though the car’s passenger-side window was blown out and the rear driver’s side window was halfway down, Rodni’s remains were found in the cargo hatch.
The vehicle would have sunk in seconds, according to Bishop, and it would make no sense for her to scramble over the row of backseats into the hatch’s confined space when there were two windows she could have climbed through.
“You’re not going to crawl into the back and climb under a seat,” he noted.
In the documentary on the Rodni search, Bishop interviewed a roadside assistance worker identified only as Nick. He said he responded to a call for a dead battery at Boca Lake north of Prosser Reservoir and that the help request came Aug. 7, more than 10 hours after Rodni’s phone pinged for the last time, he said.
Nick said he responded to the call and was met by a teen girl and another man and that both were acting strangely and standing at an awkward distance from each other.
It turned out the car didn’t have a dead battery and that the gear shift was in neutral. The teen then repeatedly asked him how to connect her seat belt.
Nick said he later saw missing posters for Rodni and realized they were the same person, according to the documentary.
Investigators later obtained surveillance footage of the bizarre interaction and should have been able to confirm whether the teen was Rodni or someone who looked like her, Bishop said.
The Nevada Sheriff’s Office said they would not provide any updates on the case until November. Bishop said the lengthy delay suggests something other than an accident.
But Tammy Watters of Sonar Search and Recovery, a nonprofit that has found 104 missing people underwater since 2005, called Adventures with Purpose irresponsible for publicly broaching their foul play theory.
“They’re not the police, they’re not investigators,” she said. “That call is for law enforcement to make. If you have the proper experience you wouldn’t go blabbing like this.”
She slammed Bishop for announcing the recovery of Rodni on Facebook before law enforcement even arrived at the crime scene and one day before the sheriff’s office confirmed the remains belonged to the missing teen.
“That was very not right,” she said.
Watters sold Adventures with Purpose their first sonar machine in 2019 after they collaborated on the Nathaniel Ashby case in Missouri. Watters identified a car in the Missouri River, and Leisek volunteered to dive in the rough currents.
They eventually pulled out Ashby’s truck with his remains still inside.
“I hear them saying they’re the world’s best, and I’m thinking, ‘You guys have only been doing this a few years,’” she said.