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Three Dickinson State University students found dead in submerged vehicle

Nicole Johns, former DSU softball player and teammate of Gemar and Neufeld, hugs Dan Fernandez after a prayer service at DSU's Student Center Ballroom on Tuesday evening. Lisa Call/ Forum Communications Co.1 / 3
Lake area where car went into the water2 / 3
In these three undated photos provided by Dickenson State University, missing students, from left, Kyrstin Gemar, 22, of Grossmont, Calif., Ashley Neufeld, 21, of Brandon, Manitoba in Canada, and Afton Williamson, 20, of Lake Elsinore, Calif. are shown. (AP Photo/Dickenson State University) **3 / 3

DICKINSON, N.D. - Authorities found the bodies of three missing Dickinson State University students in a vehicle submerged in a stock pond northwest of town Tuesday, two days after they went missing.

Kyrstin Gemar, 22, Ashley Neufeld, 21, and Afton Williamson, 20, were inside Gemar's white Jeep Cherokee, which was pulled from the 12-foot-deep pond Tuesday afternoon, Dickinson Police Lt. Rod Banyai said at a news conference.

The women, who all played softball for the university, had been missing since Sunday evening when they had reportedly gone stargazing together.

Foul play is not suspected, but the matter has not been ruled an accident, either, Banyai said.

At about 2:45 p.m. Tuesday, a search team discovered vehicle tracks leading into the pond, Banyai said. Oil residue was reportedly floating on the surface of the pond.

"It's a couple of miles, probably, off a main road," Banyai said of the pond. He declined to give a specific location.

"We will have more information later, but they're still looking at the scene and trying to determine the cause of what happened," Banyai said. "It is a scene that we're investigating, and we need to keep anyone from getting on the scene right now."

Banyai said he does not know who was driving the Jeep.

The women made two phone calls about a minute apart at about 11:18 p.m. Sunday, Banyai said.

Frantic noises were heard during both calls and the women were asking for help, police said.

The vehicle will be examined to find out if there were any problems with it, Banyai said.

In an interview with The Dickinson Press before the fates of the three women were known, parents of the women said they recently heard from their daughters.

Phil Neufeld, Ashley Neufeld's father, said he and his wife, Bev, had walked around Patterson Lake on Tuesday morning, searching for clues.

"The water thing scared me and the fact that all the cell phones quit put a very negative thought in my mind," he said.

The last time they had spoken to Ashley was about a week ago, but Phil received an e-mail from her Sunday evening.

Lenny and Claire Gemar, Kyrstin's parents, said they last spoke to their daughter late Saturday night.

"My wife spoke with her," Lenny Gemar said. "I want to say it was around midnight, or maybe after that time, and they just chatted for a little bit like mother and daughter do when the daughter's off at college."

"We are very deeply saddened by this turn of events, and we are going to mobilize all of our resources to work with the families and the students on campus," said Constance Walter, director of university relations. "Kyrstin, Ashley and Afton were essential parts of not just the softball team, but they were also critical to the university and the student body, and they will be greatly missed by their teammates and others."

Walter said Williamson, who was a junior, transferred to DSU from a Southern California college this fall. Neufeld and Gemar, who were seniors, had been at DSU for more than a year, Walter said.

Gemar is a native of San Diego and Neufeld is a native of Brandon, Man., their parents said. Williamson is from Lake Elsinore, Calif., according to the DSU Web site.

Walter said she is not aware that DSU has experienced a loss similar to this.

"These were very popular young ladies," said Hal Haynes, DSU vice president of student development.