PROVO — Surveillance photos of a missing American Fork woman taken on the day she disappeared have raised new questions about where she may have gone and what happened to her.
Jerika Alvey Binks, 24, was last seen leaving a residential treatment center near 300 North and 1100 East in American Fork about 9 a.m. on Feb. 18. She told her roommates she was going for a run, according to the Utah County Sheriff's Office.
Earlier this week, family members posted photos on the Finding Jerika Facebook page of Binks running on the National Timpanogos Cave Trail in American Fork Canyon. A National Park Service stop-motion activated camera captured her running down the trail.
"She is clearly alive and well at 1:30 pm. Where she went from here is unclear," the family posted on Facebook.
The family released the photos this week without the knowledge of investigators. Utah County Sheriff's Sgt. Spencer Cannon said deputies believe someone in the family snapped photos with their cellphone while investigators privately showed them the pictures on a computer. The reason the sheriff's office did not want the photos released was to avoid compromising the investigation should Binks' disappearance turn out to be a criminal matter.
But Cannon said his office understands the family's desire to have the public help find their loved one as soon as possible. He said the sheriff's office is not upset with the family.
"We as a family have been waiting for a month to release these photos out of respect, and not wanting to step on anyone’s toes who are aiding in the investigation," the family posted on Facebook. "They say it’s her coming down the trail. There is not footage of her coming up, which leads us to believe she gained access to the trail elsewhere. Furthermore, that leads us to believe someone showed her an entrance prior to her run that day."
Thursday afternoon, Timpanogos Cave National Monument issued a statement to further clarify the pictures, which were taken in an area that was closed to the public for the winter about halfway up the trail.
"Typically, the camera records wildlife in the area while it is closed to the public, and rangers were surprised to find an image that matched Jerika, date-stamped February 18, the reported date of her disappearance," the park stated.
The family does not believe, however, that Binks is still in that area. Officials spent hours searching the area as have volunteers with drones.
The park service concurred that "multiple days of searches were conducted by air and ground, including helicopters, drones, dog teams and ground searchers rappelling through steep terrain both above and below the cave trail."
"It is unknown what route Jerika took to get above the locked NPS gate and into the closed part of the hiking trail where the photos were taken. Adjacent scree slopes, animal trails, and other possible but unauthorized routes have been also searched multiple times," the park stated.
The public trail officially opens for the season on Saturday.
Cannon said Thursday that investigators did not have any evidence about happened to Binks, including whether she was abducted, ran away, or whether she was injured somewhere and trapped.
The search by investigators, however, has been very active, according to a series of search warrant affidavits filed over the past several weeks.
In one warrant, investigators looked at a second possible sighting of Binks on the same Timpanogos trail taken a few weeks before she went missing. In the photo, a woman with similar features as Binks is seen walking with a man. Police later determined that the woman in the photo is not Binks, Cannon said.
On the day Binks disappeared, she "left two uncashed checks in her bedroom along with her ID and debit card. She left her cellphone charger and her room was tidy. In my experience, these facts are indicative that Jerika did not run away or leave town because it is rare for a person to leave an area without taking their property, money and identification with them," the investigator wrote in one affidavit.
Detectives also checked Binks' bank accounts and found "no activity" since Feb. 18 nor any suspicious activity on her credit union account, according to the warrants.
"It is common for Jerika to go running but she would always return back to the rehab center at a reasonable time. Other individuals staying at the rehab believe this is abnormal behavior for Jerika and are concerned. Jerika has lived at the rehab center for several months and has been doing well with her treatment," another affidavit noted.
Some warrants were served on Binks' social media accounts and Google search history. Police say Binks talked to people using Snapchat prior to her disappearance.
"She is also known to sneak out of her house and meet with boys. Jerika was seen sneaking out of the house to meet with a boy and that it was against the rules approximately one week before her disappearance. She also used her Snapchat account to meet this individual approximately one week before her disappearance," a warrant states.Comment on this story
Cannon said that man was tracked down by detectives who determined that he was not involved.
The reward for information leading to Binks being found is now up to $10,000. She is 5 feet 4 inches tall, weighs 120 pounds, and has brown hair and eyes.
Anyone with information is asked to call the sheriff's office at 801-851-4013.
Correction: A stop-motion camera that captured images of Jerika Binks was set up by the National Park Service. An earlier version incorrectly stated it was a Department of Natural Resources camera.