Ex-Marine Christopher Lee was arrested Sunday night in the killing of Erin Corwin, a Marine wife who was found crumpled at the bottom of a 140-foot mine shaft in a remote desert area of Southern California.
Authorities have also said that Lee's wife, Nichole Lee, is a "person of interest" in the death.
Corwin's body was located Saturday afternoon by specialized mine search teams, who used cameras to explore more than 100 mine shafts and bodies of water in the remote desert, police said Monday. An urban search and rescue team recovered the body on Sunday, and dental records were used to ensure it was Corwin.
The mine was on federal land, a few miles southeast of Twentynine Palms, outside of Joshua Tree National Park, in the desert east of Los Angeles.
A warrant for Lee's arrest was issued after the body was found. An autopsy confirmed that Corwin was the victim of a homicide, but the cause of death has not been released.
In a statement released Monday, the Corwin family praised the search teams that combed the desert.
"While we were praying for a different outcome, we cannot begin to express the gratitude we have for every person that has been involved in the search for Erin," the family's statement said. "The countless hours that have been spent by volunteer search crews and multiple branches of law enforcement ... are more than we could have asked for and are ultimately what have led to finding her."
"Please continue to pray for our family and for justice for Erin and her unborn baby," the family added.
Corwin, 19, vanished on June 28 after telling her husband, Cpl. Jonathan Corwin, that she was headed to Joshua Tree National Park. During the seven-week search that followed, law enforcement officials and volunteers inspected more than 300 squares miles of desert and several bodies of water.
During a press conference on Monday, sheriff's Sgt. Trevis Newport said volunteers were critical in the massive search. Nearly 5,000 volunteer hours were dedicated to the search.
"There is no way that Erin … would have been located without their assistance," Newport said.
Lee, 24, is an ex-Marine, originally from Anchorage, who lived next to the Corwin couple at the desert base. Detectives believe that Lee and Corwin were having an affair, and that Lee may have been afraid that his wife, Nichole, would discover his infidelity.
Lee left the Marine Corps about the same time that Corwin went missing, and he moved off of the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms in early July. Lee and his family have since moved to Alaska, where he was arrested.
As of Monday morning, Lee was held at the Anchorage Correctional Complex. San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael Ramos said Monday that prosecutors will take about 48 hours to determine what crimes to charge Lee with.
Extradition was a certainty, Ramos said.
"We will make sure we have this person in our county through the legal means necessary," Ramos said. He added later: "All indicators are (the investigation) will be filed as a murder case."
On the day Corwin was found, search teams were focused on the areas of the Rose of Peru Mining District, Brooklyn Mining District and Los Angeles Mining District. Authorities said the area was remote, rough terrain — difficult for even a four-wheel vehicle to traverse — speckled with dangerous mine shafts.
One firefighter was injured while searching the mines, said Mark Hardwig, San Bernardino County fire chief. The firefighter's arm was struck by a rock as he descended into a mine.
The sheriff's department said it could not yet release information about Corwin's cause of death because her autopsy was not complete. It is also undetermined if Corwin's killing was pre-meditated.
Anchorage police said Lee was arrested without incident during a traffic stop.
Lee's arrest comes about a month after he was first identified as a focal point in the investigation.