North Dakota Softball Players: Cell Phone Calls Helped Find Them, But Not Soon Enough

(CBS/Lenny Gemar/Dickinson Press)
Photo: Ashley Neufeld, Kyrstin Gemar and Afton Williamson.

DICKINSON, N.D. (CBS/AP) The three Dickinson State University North Dakota softball players believed to have been on a stargazing trip were found dead inside a Jeep after signals from their last desperate phone calls helped lead authorities to a rural farm pond.

PICTURES: Missing Softball Girls

Stark County Sheriff Clarence Tuhy said the calls, which authorities were able to track to cell phone towers, were critical in leading searchers to the vehicle.

The students were believed to be in the Jeep when two of their friends received telephone calls late Sunday before the lines quickly went dead. Police described the first as a "very scratchy" call for help in which one of the students said they were near water.

Tuhy said it wasn't clear if emergency crews might have been able to reach the women had they called 911 instead of their friends.

"There could have probably been some location formed out of that (Sunday night) but if it would have been timely enough, I don't know," he said.

No foul play is suspected in the deaths of Kyrstin Gemar, 22, of San Diego; Afton Williamson, 20, of Lake Elsinore, Calif.; and Ashley Neufeld, 21, of Brandon, Manitoba. The bodies of the women and Neufeld's dog were found inside the SUV.

"It's the worst day of my life," Gemar's father, Lenny, said Tuesday night after a prayer service on campus.

University President Richard McCallum said classes were canceled Wednesday and a memorial service was being planned on campus Thursday.

PICTURES: Missing Softball Girls

November 4, 2009 - Dickinson State University Students Found Dead in Jeep Pulled from Pond
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November 3, 2009 - Dickinson State University Students Vanish After Phone Call