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Ashley Rodrigue / Eyewitness News
Email: arodrigue@wwltv.com | Twitter: @ashleyrwwl

NEW ORLEANS The body of a missing 19-year-old teenager was found in her submerged car Wednesday, ending a four-day, multi-agency search for the University of New Orleans student.

Hayley Howard's car and body were discovered in water near Irish Bayou and Interstate-10, authorities said, in an area they had focused on because of a ping from a cell phone tower. It was the last activity observed from her phone on Saturday morning.

NOPD Chief Ronal Serpas said the crash is being investigated as a fatal accident. Police said they believe she veered off the side of the road and into the water.

The teenager's family spent more than an hour with NOPD staff Wednesday in a mobile command center. They eventually emerged from the vehicle, hugging each other before walking away.

Family and friends also were hugging at the scene, some shedding tears.

Friends told Eyewitness News that Howard had recently been accepted to transfer to Xavier, where she was set to study pharmacology.

Howard last was seen after dropping a friend off at UNO. She got a flat tire in the area and told her boyfriend that 'nice people' helped her change it and she would be heading toward Slidell.

More than a hundred people met up Wednesday in Slidell to organize the foot portion of the search, which spanned five miles in every direction from the cell tower.

NOPD and St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office detectives were in the area of La. Hwy. 11. Boats and a helicopter from St. Tammany Parish were also in the water and air, as they have been since Sunday.

Family and friends said the turnout to search and spread the word on social media had been encouraging. The hashtag '#FindHaley' was created to foster help in the search via Twitter.

Gregory Whittington, of Perkinston, Miss., with no ties to the situation, said he felt compelled to get involved.

'I have an 18-year-old named Hayley and it just kind of hit home to me,' Perkinston said. 'I would want folks to do the same for me. I just came in to help, try to give the family some peace.'

If you were involved in that tire change or traveled from New Orleans to Slidell between 2-6 a.m. Saturday, call NOPD or the St. Tammany Sheriff's Office.

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