Ashley Lowery, Deseret News
Investigators prepare a body for transportation that was found Wednesday in a canal in West Valley City. The body was found near a house where a woman was missing after a fire on Tuesday.

WEST VALLEY CITY — The body of a woman was found Wednesday in a canal near the home of a woman who was declared missing after her house caught on fire Tuesday.

An autopsy was scheduled for today, at which time investigators hope to make a positive identification of the body as well as determine a cause of death.

Although the body was not positively identified Wednesday, even after it was pulled out of the water, West Valley Assistant Police Chief Craig Black said the body was wearing clothing very similar to the clothes Nichi Edwards was last seen wearing, and that the search for Edwards had been scaled "significantly" back.

The body was discovered about 11 a.m. by a detective searching the area in the Department of Public Safety helicopter. All but about an inch of the body was submerged in the canal, located about 75 yards to the northwest of Edwards' home. The victim was found in the middle of the 2-to-3-foot-wide canal.

Black did not know Wednesday if the woman fell into the canal where she was found or if a current had carried her downstream.

There were no obvious signs of trauma found on the woman, Black said.

Also Wednesday afternoon, West Valley fire investigators determined the fire that broke out in the upstairs area of Edwards' home prior to her disappearance was intentionally set, said West Valley Assistant Fire Chief Kris Romijn. Several samples from the fire were collected and sent to a lab to be tested for possible accelerants.

Because the woman found in the canal had not been positively identified, an endangered person alert was still in effect Wednesday afternoon for Edwards.

Edwards' disappearance was still being called "suspicious" Wednesday, but it had not elevated yet to the status of a criminal investigation. Depending on what is discovered in the autopsy, investigators will have a determination on whether or not the death was a homicide, Black said. Until then, Black said there are no suspects or persons of interest because detectives aren't sure a crime was committed.

"We have no evidence to lead us one way or another right now," he said shortly after the body was found.

Edwards, 37, was last seen by her husband, Matt, just before 3:30 p.m. Tuesday. Nichi Edwards was lying down in the master bedroom when her husband ran a quick errand to mail a package, according to Romijn. When he returned 10 minutes later, he found his house on fire. But after the fire was put out and the house searched, it was determined that Nichi was not inside.

Investigators believe the fire started in the hallway leading to the entrance of the bedroom where Nichi was believed to be.

Matt Edwards was questioned by police, but Black said he had been very cooperative and as of Wednesday, all of the information he had given police had been confirmed as being true.

Edwards hired an attorney Wednesday to walk him through the process as the investigation continued.

"He loves his wife very much," attorney Mark Ethington said. "Of course he's very distraught about the whole situation."

Nichi Edwards rarely left the house, according to officials. There had been reports that she did not like being outdoors. Black tried clarifying her condition Wednesday, saying that according to the family, there was nothing so deficient about Nichi Edwards that she would need special assistance if she were outside by herself.

"She did have a number of physical and psychological problems," Ethington said, adding that the woman suffered from depression. "It wasn't anything debilitating. But she mainly didn't want to go outside because of her physical problems. She was in a lot of pain."


Contributing: Aaron Falk

E-mail: preavy@desnews.com