A 24-year-old female intern with the Colorado Geological Survey radioed for help before she went missing and a man found camping in the area was arrested after her body was found, officials said Wednesday.
Alyssa Heberton Morimoto of Denver, was mapping geological sites Tuesday in the San Isabel National Forest in a remote part of Park County, said Vince Matthews, director of the survey.
Morimoto was working with the service’s Karen Houck, who is also a professor at the University of Colorado-Denver, where Morimoto was a graduate student. Houck contacted officials after responding to the distress call and finding only an empty SUV.
Morimoto’s body was found southwest of Antero Reservoir about 11:40 p.m. Tuesday, nearly 10 hours after she was reported missing.
A man camping in the area was arrested. His name had not been released and Park County officials were trying to verify his identity. Sheriff Fred Wegener said during a news conference the man faces a first-degree murder charge.
Matthews said the suspect had given Houck a ride as she tried hiking out to find cell phone reception.
“I think we’re extremely fortunate this isn’t a double tragedy,” Matthews said. “The person who gave her the ride was later identified as the suspect in Alyssa’s death.”
Houck and Morimoto were separated when Houck decided to hike to a ridge for lunch instead of riding there with Morimoto. When Houck realized she would be late, she radioed Morimoto. A few minutes later, Houck received a frantic return radio signal.
“She (Morimoto) was screaming, ‘help me, help me.’ Then the radio went dead,” Matthews said.
Houck bushwhacked through thick brush and arrived at the SUV about 20 minutes later, Matthews said.
Unable to get a cell phone signal and with the SUV keys missing, Houck headed down a road toward a campground when she was approached by a man in a vehicle who gave her a ride.
Houck and the man flagged down a forest ranger who passed them on the road and the ranger contacted the Park County sheriff.
A cause of death was not released and it was unclear how far from the SUV Morimoto’s body was found.
Morimoto was a Denver native and graduate of Denver Waldorf High School. She graduated from the University of Colorado-Denver and was one year from graduating with a master’s degree in environmental sciences from the school. She lived in Denver with her husband and parents, Matthews said.
Houck was Morimoto’s first geology professor at UCD and Houck recommended Morimoto to be her field assistant during the internship, Matthews said.
“I don’t know how you can prevent something like this,” Matthews said, later adding: “I worry about lions and bears all the time with our mappers, but you just don’t think about this kind of evil.”
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