FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The body of a 16-year-old Ruby girl missing for nearly a year has been recovered near the Kobuk River.
The body of Stephanie Bennis was found last week by residents of Shungnak as they gathered firewood near a stream off the Kobuk.
Last June 5, Bennis and her boyfriend, then 18-year-old Aaron Tickett of Shungnak, had traveled from Shungnak to Kobuk to drop off Tickett's brother. That night, the couple were returning to Shungnak, about five miles downriver from Kobuk, when the boat apparently struck something and sent them both overboard.
According to Alaska State Troopers, Tickett reached a sand bar downriver and warmed himself in a nearby cabin. He then retrieved the boat and returned to Kobuk. There was no sign of Bennis.
What followed was a huge search by family members, troopers and residents of a score of villages and towns from Fairbanks to Kotzebue. Organizations including Doyon Ltd. also were involved. Bennis' mother, Dawn Honea, said searchers pored over the river itself and its banks for miles downstream, well past Shungnak and all the way up to Ambler.
The search went on for the entire summer, and fall hunters kept an eye out as well.
But it wasn't until a few Shungnak residents were out gathering firewood near the town Thursday someone spotted Bennis' remains, which had drifted into a stream off the Kobuk.
''Im just grateful that I got her back,'' Honea told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. ''It's a big relief -- now I can put a closure to it.''
Bennis body was sent to Anchorage for an autopsy, Honea said, but will soon be returned to Ruby for a burial, possibly on Saturday. ''From Nenana to Ruby, well bring her home by boat,'' she said. ''She'll be home again.''
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