GARY — News that police were responding Sunday to a report of a dead body in a relatively remote area of the city's Aetna section drew a large crowd, but the "body" ultimately was determined to be a life-sized silicone female doll, officials said.
Residents and police have been searching for the past week for 23-year-old Ariana Taylor, whose vehicle was found crashed into a ravine April 3 not far from where the doll was found Sunday.
After initially releasing information that a body had been found in a grassy area near Lake Street and 15th Avenue, Gary police said the "body" — which had been wrapped in a sheet — had been uncovered and determined to be a doll.
The investigation began about 2:40 p.m., when police were called to the area for a report of a body in a grassy area, officials said.
The Lake County coroner's office said a NIPSCO employee doing work in the area called 911.
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"The investigation turned out to be a false alarm," Coroner David Pastrick said in a news release.
Police shut down 15th Avenue east to Lake Street and Lake Street south from a bridge over Interstate 80, near 13th Place. Emergency vehicles' flashing lights could be seen in the distance, near where 15th and Lake Street intersect.
Dozens of people gathered near 15th Avenue and Clay Street, where police had blocked off the road, awaiting news about the investigation.
Lake County Sheriff Oscar Martinez Jr. said investigators were aware of Taylor's disappearance and took all necessary steps to preserve potential evidence, avoid contaminating a possible homicide scene and follow proper crime scene investigation procedures.
"The body was wrapped completely in a sheet and off the side of the road partially covered," he said. "Because of the close proximity to the scene of the missing girl, everybody was overly cautious to preserve any potential forensic evidence such as hair or fibers or DNA on the sheet."
The sheet was not touched or removed until detectives, evidence technicians and Lake County coroner's investigators responded and photographed the scene, he said.
"Once the body was removed from the scene to an environment where the sheet could be removed properly with preservation of evidence in mind, it was found to be a doll," Martinez said.
After learning what they had found was a doll, police closed their case, officials said.
The search for Taylor continued.
Taylor, of Calumet Township, was last seen April 2, police said.
Authorities found the Chevrolet Trailblazer she was known to drive crashed at the bottom of a ravine the morning of April 3 off Interstate 65 and the I-80 overpass. A passerby had noticed the vehicle and called police.
Taylor was first reported missing the evening of April 3, police said.
Whoever was driving the Chevrolet was not located, despite extensive searches by multiple law enforcement agencies on foot, with a drone, K-9s, officers on horseback and the Lake County Sheriff's Department helicopter, authorities said. Residents also searched unsuccessfully for Taylor.
Gary police took jurisdiction of the missing persons case Tuesday, and Mayor Jerome Prince issued a call late last week for anyone with information about Taylor to come forward.
Taylor was described as 5 foot 6 and 200 pounds. She was last seen wearing a red sweater, cut-up blue jeans, and red and white Nike Air Force One shoes, according to a missing persons flier.
Anyone with information about her last known whereabouts is asked to call Detective Sgt. Mark Salazar at 219-881-1209 or 911. To remain anonymous, call 866-CRIME-GP.