Police confirm body found in yard belongs to missing KU student - KCTV5

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Police confirm body found in yard belongs to missing KU student

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Gianfranco Villagomez-Saldana's girlfriend called Lawrence police about 7 p.m. when she hadn't heard from him. Gianfranco Villagomez-Saldana's girlfriend called Lawrence police about 7 p.m. when she hadn't heard from him.
LAWRENCE, KS (KCTV) -

Authorities in Lawrence confirmed a body found in the backyard of a home is that of a missing University of Kansas student.

The coroner's office investigators made a preliminary identification on Monday that the body belongs to Gianfranco Villagomez-Saldana, 23, a graduate student who went missing this weekend. Official confirmation came Tuesday.

Police say investigators are awaiting autopsy results to determine his cause of death but they do not suspect foul play.

University officials released a statement Tuesday offering condolences to Villagomez-Saldana's family and friends. He earned a bachelor's degree in industrial design in May and was working on a master's degree in engineering.

A woman and her adult son discovered the body in the yard at 837 Avalon Rd. at about 1:30 p.m. Monday. They said that they feel terrible about the discovery and awful for the family and friends of the Peruvian native.

The residence is about a mile from where Villagomez-Saldana was last seen as he headed to his girlfriend's residence.

"It is almost entirely opposite the direction that we anticipated that he would be walking in," Sgt. Trent McKinley of the Lawrence Police Department said. "Of those family and friends that we've contacted this afternoon, many were perplexed as to why he would have been going in that direction."

Friends last saw Villagomez-Saldana near Ninth and Michigan streets about 2:30 a.m. Saturday. He was heading home from hanging out at a friend's apartment. Earlier in the evening, he had attended a gathering and been out for dinner. 

It should have been just a half-mile walk to his girlfriend's place at 11th and Mississippi streets, but he never made it there.

"I miss my boyfriend. He is lost, and we all want to find him. He's such a wonderful person, and he always took such good care of me. I just hate that he's out there somewhere, maybe hurt," Donna Harkrider said before the body was found.

Earlier Monday, authorities said they had pinged his cell phone.

"We understand that the cell phone he had was not the most reliable," McKinley said. "Often times the battery goes dead."

McKinley said the student felt comfortable walking and had declined a ride from a friend. He left his vehicle at his girlfriend's residence.

"We don't have any reason to believe that he took his own life at this point in time. We don't have any reason to believe that others were involved in this either," McKinley said Monday. "It could have been an accidental incident."

Friends had been passing out flyers, but they called off search efforts Monday evening. Friends had searched all weekend and were out by flashlight Sunday night, looking for any sign of where he may have gone. They also asked businesses to look at their surveillance video for any clues.

"We're just looking for anywhere that he might have gone inside to try to get warm, just anywhere like that he might have gone that somebody wouldn't have already noticed," Nick Kraly said.

Friends say it is totally out of character for Villagomez-Saldana to be out of touch and that everything was fine when they last saw him.

"He is one of the kindest and most responsible people I know, and so for him to be gone without telling anyone, especially for this long of a time, is absolutely bizarre and it just kind of terrifies me," Kraly said.

Villagomez-Saldana saw top honors in industrial design at KU.

He was described as being approximately 5'8" tall, weighing 165 pounds, with black hair, brown eyes and glasses. He was last seen wearing a blue shirt with a KU Jayhawk logo on it, a long-sleeved gray shirt, a black jacket, jeans and white tennis shoes.

Villagomez-Saldana is originally from Lima, Peru, and his family traveled to Kansas in the wake of the tragedy.

Lawrence police thanked everyone who helped search and provided leads to police.

An autopsy will determine whether the freezing temperatures played a role in the death.

Authorities had been told that the student was quite responsible and kept in touch with family and friends, who knew something was wrong.

"This gentleman was very well liked, was really a very successful student," McKinley said. "It's just a very sad situation."

Friends and family now mourn the loss of a man easy with his hugs and love.

"Gianfranco is a fabulous human being. He would do anything for anyone," Taylor Scrivner said.

A Facebook page was created by the student's friends. Click here for more details.

A heartbreaking post was made Monday night.

"With a saddened heart, we have confirmed that Gianfranco was found. We have lost a remarkable, creative, kind, funny, and wonderful human being who will be sorely missed by everyone of those who had the privilege of meeting him. We really thank you for all your support, prayers, and positive thoughts throughout these HARD times. Your support has meant a lot to all of us. Stay warm, safe, and look out for each other."

KCTV5's Bill Lindsay, DeAnn Smith, Heather Staggers and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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