ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The weeklong mystery of missing Albuquerque 24-year-old Brittany Johnson came to a tragic end Saturday as authorities identified the body found Friday evening at the bottom of a steep cliff in the Sandia Mountains as Johnson’s.
Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Pete Golden said investigators believe she accidentally fell. He said there were no indications of suicide.
“There were signs indicating she was looking to make some life changes, but none of those indicated she was going to take her life,” he said.
Stephen Ormsby, 28, one of Johnson’s close friends, said Johnson had told friends she wanted to leave New Mexico, where she was born and raised. But she was also looking forward to a visit from friends coming to see her soon.
“She wanted to move. She wanted to try something new. All she knows is Albuquerque,” Ormsby said.
Last seen at the Albuquerque Baths spa a week ago Saturday, she was reported missing the following day after failing to show up at a friend’s graduation party. Her car was found Wednesday on Sandia Crest with the keys on the hood – placed there by another hiker who found them along a trail – and an area search ensued.
Johnson had suddenly quit her job at Grove Cafe and left a line of credit at the spa for her friends, Caroyln Herrera, one of Johnson’s friends, told the Journal previously. Golden on Saturday said Johnson was considering moving out of the state, possibly to enroll in college. He said she left no suicide note, never told any of her friends or relatives goodbye and had no history of depression.
Johnson was in high terrain and alone in the Sandias during inclement weather when she died, Golden said.
Bad weather pounded down on searchers for three days. The search party, which was coordinated by New Mexico Search and Rescue, included law enforcement personnel and volunteers who combed through steep crags and thick brush.
“The Sandia Mountains are often underestimated for the difficultly of the terrain because it’s so close to Albuquerque, but it’s still a mountain range,” Golden said. “With snow, with ice, with wind, with cloud cover – all that weather didn’t make it any easier.”
Ormsby said Johnson’s friends noticed the effort put in by search-and-rescue members. Their search included rappelling down sheer rock faces to find Johnson.
“I was so grateful for the law enforcement presence, the determination and effort to find her,” Ormsby said.
Johnson’s body was found around 5 p.m. Friday at the bottom of a cliff west of the Crest parking lot. It took six hours to get her off the mountain due to the weather, Golden said.
It’s believed Johnson fell sometime on May 9, Golden said, though an autopsy report and toxicology report still have to be reviewed before the investigation will come to a close. The autopsy was done Saturday.
“Not knowing anything was the most painful part,” Ormsby said of the last week. “Thinking about her and praying for her.”
Johnson’s mother could not be reached for comment Saturday.
Johnson is the second young woman to fall to her death in the Sandia Mountains this year. Maya Spencer, 17, slipped and fell off a steep cliff in late March while hiking with friends.