Updated: 3/17/16 to reflect that Marya Christiansen was found dead in her minivan.
The weeklong search for a beloved missing Wisconsin mom of two young boys who vanished while heading home after a girl’s night out is over.
Marya Christiansen’s body was inside of her white 2006 Dodge Caravan as it was fished out of the Mississippi River early Thursday by Pierce County Sheriff's Dive & Rescue team, according to a statement.
The vehicle had somehow entered the river under the back channel bridge at a boat launch.
“Today the vehicle must have turned just right so we could get a couple Sonar shots that looked like tires,” Pierce County Sheriff Nancy Hove told the local NBC affiliate KARE11. “So we got our divers in from Goodhue County to check it out and hook onto whatever was there.”
Ever since Friday night, every passing second without her was like a life sentence for her high school sweetheart.
“I was talking to her all night because she was out with her friends and I was out with my friends,” Christopher Johnson told The Daily Beast in an exclusive interview from his home home on Tuesday when hope was still alive and where they were raising their handsome charges.
“We have two boys: Zachary who’s 6, and Taylor’s 3,” he said.
And they both were missing Mommy.
Search and rescue efforts led by law enforcement from both Minnesota and Wisconsin have been scouring the Mississippi River since Johnson reported Christiansen missing around 2 p.m. Saturday.
Christiansen, 23, who works as a machine operator at a cookie factory, was last seen wearing a red short-sleeve shirt, black leggings, and a tall black boots, according to the sheriff’s department. She sported a “Grandma” tattoo and could easily be mistaken for a teenager with her slight build and baby-face features.
Red Wing Police Chief Roger Pohlman said no resources have been spared to find her: plane and boat teams searched all the “primary routes” Christiansen could have taken in her van.
“The last time she was seen was leaving a party at a friend’s apartment,” Chief Pohlman told The Daily Beast.
After he went to the authorities, Johnson appealed on Facebook to bring back the love of his life.
One friend feared the worse: “She is not missing is she?”
Johnson said he spoke to Christiansen around midnight and the last time she was seen was around 2:30 a.m. Saturday.
Johnson’s Facebook was flooded with the news reports that Christiansen was found but dead. The cause of her death will be determined pending an autopsy.
Elysa Miller, who was out with Christiansen on Friday night, updated her profile photo featuring her pal, Johnson and her.
That Friday night would be the last time anybody would see the stunning Christiansen alive. She was out with her girlfriends cutting loose at a popular Minnesota watering hole called Kelly’s Taphouse with her gal pals to last call, before ending the night at a private party and then deciding to bail and drive home alone.
All the while she left her better half in the lurch.
“I was trying to call her because I was coming back from my friend’s house,” Johnson said. “I was going to pick her up but she was not answering at this time.”
He’d never get that chance.
The night started out as any other.
Their sons were tucked into their makeshift beds at Johnson’s mother’s house.
Christiansen then drove and parked her minivan at her girlfriend’s home to get dolled up and they both zipped four miles or so across the Mississippi in Minnesota for a dinner and drinks.
“It was kind of planned that she would spend the night there,” Johnson said.
Johnson, her boyfriend mostly on than off since Christiansen was 16, had a guy’s night out.
The girls started their night gulping margarita pitchers at Fiesta Cancun, but Johnson said his girlfriend told him she only nursed one Bud Lite for the rest of the night.
“That’s all she drinks, really,” he said.
Christiansen and her girlfriends closed out Fiesta Cancun at around 10 p.m. They then invited their server and friend to join them at Kelly’s Taphouse where they met up with Johnson’s cousins, one of whom is dating a friend of Christiansen.
At no time during the night did Christiansen veer off on her own or seem erratic in what was a hopping Friday night, Kelly’s bar manager told The Daily Beast.
Mitch Anderson said he has reviewed surveillance video from that evening since Christiansen was reported missing.
Anderson confirmed Johnson’s account that Christiansen was holding a “brown bottle” all night.
“She had a beer,” Anderson said. “She was just sipping on it slowly and she was the calm, soberest one of the bunch.”
Christiansen’s friends on the other hand were letting loose on the dance floor and downing cocktails. “Just watching the camera they were drinking more and getting a little wild on the dance floor. [Christiansen] was sitting down and chatting and drinking her beer.”
And not only did they stick together all night long, Anderson said they were having a blast.
“They were taking Snapchats and pictures left and right.”
Chatting with some of Christiansen’s friends from Friday, the bar manager said the young woman was in good spirits.
“One of my friends was talking to Marya and told me she didn’t sound depressed or sad or mad,” he said.
After a close watch of the footage, Anderson, 29, said Christiansen split her time between the bar area and the deck where two fire pits were burning strong. Nothing seemed suspicious.
“She was on the phone at one point for about 10-15 minutes and standing away from the people,” he said of one moment that stuck out at around midnight, which matches the time that Johnson said they spoke on the phone.
Anderson also scoped for anybody that was out of place or, as he called it, “creepy.”
As word spread, support grew for Christiansen’s return with her own crowdfunding page and others huddled online trying to figure out if anybody from that evening could have attacked or kidnapped her.
There was scuttlebutt about a “creepy guy from Tennessee” was lurking in the bar that night. Anderson pointed to one of his friends who said she was very tipsy that night and remembered handing over her digits to a Tennessee man. But Anderson says that same man returned back to Kelly’s the following night—both times accompanied by a woman he said was his wife.
“He looked like he played in the NFL,” Anderson said. “He kind of stuck out with his long braided hair and was a muscular guy.”
Another elderly man Anderson said he had remembered as a former patron was at the bar and seemed to be out of place, pacing “back and forth,” but he left before the girls did.
The speculation is just that and authorities so far no reason to believe anybody has had a hand in Christiansen’s disappearance.
Around 12:30 a.m., Christiansen left the premises to walk down the street before returning less than five minutes later. “I think she walked off with another girl and then they walked out of reach of the camera down the street,” Anderson said.
“I was looking closely at the video at the end of the night to see if there were any guys following her and left after her—but I didn’t see that,” he noted.
The bar closed around 2 a.m. and that’s when Christiansen’s crew was picked up by the landlord of one of her friend’s in a gray Ford F-350.
“He pulled up and waited for about 20 minutes and the girls were messing around and went to the bathroom and they finally walked out and loaded up in the truck and left,” he said.
They went back to Christiansen’s friend’s house where she was supposed to crash, but she changed her mind about sleeping over after about 15 minutes in the yard, according to Johnson and other witnesses that spoke to The Daily Beast. After a quick cigarette, she got in her van and left.
“She had gotten sick at Kelly’s and Marya didn’t want to stay there,” said Sandy Dahl, a 53-year-old longtime neighbor and dear friend who has spoken at length with Christiansen’s dad Steve and helped look after her since she was a young girl.
“She said she wanted to go home after they got there,” Johnson told us. “Somebody had brought up the idea of taking a taxi, but she said she felt she was good enough to drive. And ended up driving.”
One witness, whose relative was at the friend’s house, said Christiansen’s leave was abrupt. “They were out in the yard talking and she came back in the house and said, ‘Marya just left.’”
“Her phone on Facebook died at 2:26 a.m.,” Johnson said. “And hasn’t been activated since.”
He is left with questions, regret, and what’s left of hope after almost a full week without the person whom he described on his updated Facebook profile as “my World.”
Asked if there was a possible row between them or if anything had come over Christiansen, Johnson said: “No nothing at all like that. Everything has been pretty good with us.”
Travis Nasers is heartbroken for the loss of his daughter’s dear friend.
For it was BaileyLynn Lawrence, 24, who tagged along with Christiansen in her white van on Friday night to meet up at her friend’s house to get ready to go out.
“Bailey could have been in that van,” the 44-year-old dad and pest control worker told us. “She rode down there with Marya on Friday and it could have been two girls instead of one.”
His daughter is not speaking to anyone right now, “including her parents” Nasers said. But she admitted that she “was out of it” after consuming plenty of liquor at both Fiesta Cancun and Kelley’s and counted herself out of getting into a car.
But Nasers still wonders that if she had been outside in the yard with Christiansen, she likely would have wanted to take off back to Wisconsin.
“Had she been out there with Marya in the yard she would have been like, ‘That’s my ride. I need to go with her since that’s who I came with.’”
Whatever the circumstances of her abrupt leave and now tragic fate, Christiansen had so much to live for.
“Her and Chris were getting an apartment together and she was very excited about that,” Dahl said. “I knew her when she first started dating… I know she truly loves Chris.”
“She loves her family with all her heart,” Dahl said.
Christiansen was close with her father, Steve, who Dahl’s big sister Lynda said had been losing hope.
“He’s so devastated,” she said. “He said yesterday: ‘If she’s not alive I don’t want to be here anymore.’”
The Dahls helped raise Christiansen, whose mother was out of the picture.
Before her body was recovered Dahl said that Christiansen would never have intentionally abandon her family.
“I know she was supposed to pick up her kids the next morning at 10 a.m.,” Lynda Day said of Christiansen and her dedication to her children.
“She’s such a good mother and there’s no way she would leave them.”
And now so many from Wisconsin to Minnesota are in mourning.
“She was a young, beautiful girl. She had a lot of energy. She was a spitfire,” Sharon Christiansen, Marya’s godmother, said before breaking down into tears. “Please, find a sober cab. Do something to stay safe. Don’t let this happen to your family.”
Online, Christiansen’s own Facebook page is dotted with portraits of her and Christopher Johnson in loving embrace.
An outpouring of sorrow and fond memories of Marya Christiansen poured out on Christopher Johnson’s Facebook page.
Shy Jensen wrote him: “I remember this time last year we kid napped you and took you to Missouri. Marya was sssooo pissed. But it wasn’t that long ago that She has told me how much she loved you. And nothing will ever take that away. Stay strong Chris.”
Another friend, Brittany Holden, later posted on his page: “This truly breaks my heart I’m sorry for the loss you and the boys are going through. Rest in peace Marya.”