NEW ORLEANS - After 14 weeks of searching, the family of a missing teacher may finally have an answer. A volunteer team found Terrilynn Monette's car in Bayou St. John at Harrison Avenue Saturday afternoon. A body was in the driver’s seat
Now, police are working to piece together why and how she apparently drove into the bayou.
Monette’s family tearfully embraced as crews pulled her black Honda Accord out of Bayou St. John.
"It was very difficult getting that phone call today," said Terrilynn's mother, Toni Enclade. "We were getting ready to do more searching and passing out more flyers."
“We never would have imagined this would have happened. How do we move on? You really don't know how to move on,” said Sierra Brumfield, one of Monette’s friends.
The Jefferson Parish teacher vanished on March 2 after leaving Parlay's Bar in Lakeview. A traffic camera captured her turning left onto Marconi from Harrison Avenue, apparently en route to her apartment.
Monette’s story captured the heart of the community. For months, volunteer search teams combed City Park and Bayou St. John. People who had never met Monette went to vigils.
On Saturday, dozens of onlookers gathered at the bayou to show support.
“Just show our respects to the family,” said Karen Chambers, a former principal at Reed Elementary, who hired Monette for her first teaching job.
Officials said crews have searched the area of the bayou at least three times before, raising questions for Monette’s family and friends about why it took so long to find her vehicle.
“Well how long has the car been there if they done searched this area? This area done been searched before. It's really mind boggling to me,” said family friend Zina Scott.
Mark Michaud is the volunteer diver who used sonar to find Monette's car Saturday. The Slidell Police officer said other crews could have easily missed Monette’s vehicle. He decided to search the area because he wanted to give Monette's mother a sense of closure.
“I’m happy. It’s not something everyone wants to do, but you know what, she has her baby, she knows where she is," said Michaud.
After the crime scene tape was taken down and police left the area, a family friend threw rose petals into the bayou in Monette’s honor. Those who knew Monette say Saturday’s discovery is bittersweet.
"It's going to be difficult," said Enclade. "I have another daughter. I have two beautiful granddaughters. They're going to be my reason for getting through this."
“Rough, rough for everybody, everybody that been involved it's been rough. We got closure for [her mother] Toni and her daughters, her dad, myself and a whole lot of others. We're happy. Happy and sad, happy and sad,” said Donald Parker, Monette’s cousin.
“It's a relief, it's a relief. We promised that we would never give up on her and we stood by that promise,” said Brumfield.
NOPD's Homicide and Fatality Units are working the case to figure out where Monette's car entered the bayou, why she was in that particular area, and if there was foul play.
The coroner's office plans to begin an autopsy Monday to determine if the body inside the car is indeed Monette's.