Missing College Student Found Dead in Submerged Car — Weeks After Accidentally Driving into River
Police in Kansas City, Missouri, confirmed this week that missing college student Toni Anderson — who vanished in January after leaving work — was found dead on March 10 in a car pulled from the Missouri River.
Authorities say Anderson’s vehicle had been submerged for weeks after she apparently accidentally drove into the water soon after going missing early on Jan. 15.
A police spokeswoman tells PEOPLE detectives found nothing to suggest foul play factored into Anderson’s death, allaying her family’s concerns. The spokeswoman declined to discuss the case in detail, citing the ongoing investigation.
But Anderson’s mother, Liz Anderson, says authorities assured her the 20-year-old college sophomore’s death was accidental — though it seems she tried to escape the water.
“I am relieved that it was nothing more than a tragic accident,” Liz tells PEOPLE.
“There was no foul play; [Toni] had no broken bones, and there was nothing on her body that would indicate any type of a struggle,” she says. “It is horrible. But they finally found her, and now we have a bit of closure.”
Toni disappeared on Jan. 15 after she left work at the Chrome club in Kansas City, just after 4 a.m. She was on her way to meet up with a friend, but police say she never made it.
She was pulled over at 4:30 a.m. by a North Kansas City, Missouri, police officer — a separate jurisdiction from Kansas City — for a routine traffic stop for an illegal lane change, which resulted in a warning.
She then stopped for gas, according to police. At 4:42 a.m., she texted a friend, “OMG just got pulled over again.” (Police said she was likely referring to the stop minutes earlier.)
She wasn’t seen alive again.
• Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter.
Investigators are waiting on autopsy results, which may provide them with additional information about how Toni died, the police spokeswoman says.
“[Police] believe she was confused and was turning around in a park, and that her GPS may have directed her to go the wrong way,” Liz says.
“If you look at the boat ramp she drove off of, it looks like a regular road — especially at night, when it’s dark,” she continues. “The police believe the ramp was icy and that she may have tried to stop, but the car went into the water.”
There were signs that Toni tried to leave her vehicle once it began sinking.
“The police told me that her window was down and that her seat belt was off, so they figure she was trying to get out,” Liz says. “The current of the river was too strong and the cold water rushed in just too quick for her to escape. That’s what the police have determined.”
• Pick up PEOPLE’s special edition True Crime Stories: Cases That Shocked America, on sale now, for the latest on Casey Anthony, JonBenét Ramsey and more.
Toni, whose body has been cremated, will be remembered at a Tuesday morning funeral at the Risen Savior Lutheran Church in Wichita, Kansas.
She studied marketing at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and, in her spare time, reviewed music festivals, her family said.
Her mother has described her as “a beautiful, smart, intelligent, hard-working, kind and loving person.”
“We are all just a mess right now,” Liz tells PEOPLE after confirmation of Toni’s death, “but we are surviving and getting through. We miss her so much.”