A young Irvine woman who attends Cal Poly San Luis Obispo is missing, the second female student there to vanish in just over two years.
Rachel Newhouse, 20, a junior who is studying nutrition, was last seen Thursday night at a fraternity party at a Mexican restaurant and bar, authorities said. FBI agents joined local police in the investigation Wednesday, as friends and family members posted notices across six counties and on the Internet offering a $10,000 reward.
News of the disappearance rocked the scenic college town, where students, residents and police are still baffled by the disappearance of Cal Poly student Kristin Smart, 19. She was last seen at a campus party over Memorial Day weekend 1996, and has never been found.
That case led to massive media coverage and a change last spring in state laws regarding campus crime. The Kristin Smart Campus Safety Act of 1998 requires campus police to spell out exactly when they will call in outside authorities to investigate any violent crime.
The disappearances of the two women are strikingly similar, although authorities would not say whether they are seeking links and downplayed the community’s concerns that there is a connection.
Newhouse’s uncle, Peter Morreale of Riverside, said Wednesday that his niece had been drinking at the party with about 200 other people. She had gone there with friends. At some point, she was asked for identification to prove she was old enough to drink, he said, and she quietly left.
“No one’s seen her since,” Morreale said.
He said Newhouse is extremely close to her parents and calls her mother as often as four times a week.
“It’s way beyond unusual that she wouldn’t call,” said Morreale, a Riverside defense attorney. He said he has to presume that she has been abducted.
Newhouse, a hostess at a local brewery, failed to show up for work Friday, Morreale said. Concerned, her boss called her roommates, who notified her parents and police.
Over the weekend, not far from where a huge billboard still seeks information about Smart, Newhouse’s family and friends walked any possible route she might have taken, searching for clues. Helicopters and police dogs joined them, and a piece of a bridge railing with bloodstains was removed for testing.
Kristin Smart’s mother, Denise, said of the second disappearance: “It gives me chills.”
San Luis Obispo County sheriff’s deputies identified a suspect in that case, but he was never arrested or charged.
The Smart family named the college and the suspect in a $40-million wrongful death lawsuit. The suspect’s attorney, Greg Coates of San Luis Obispo, said the portion of the suit against his client was dropped in August.