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Family: Missing Charlotte woman’s body found in Wilkes County

By Steve Lyttle and David Perlmutt
slyttle@charlotteobserver.com

The family of Holly Fischer said Monday that the body of the Charlotte woman who had been missing for a week was found overnight in a mountain area near the Wilkes-Ashe county line.

The Wilkes County Sheriff’s Office also said in a statement that the body is believed to be Fischer’s. Multiple law enforcement agencies are continuing to investigate her death, the sheriff’s office said.

Fischer’s 2004 Infiniti SUV was discovered this morning down a steep ravine off N.C. 16, a short distance southeast of the county line in Wilkes County, authorities said earlier Monday.

“Our hearts are broken,” the Fischer family said in a message posted on a Facebook page created to aid in the search for the missing woman. “The family does wish to express their tremendous gratitude to the countless volunteers and authorities that have participated in the search for Holly. Without your tireless efforts, we believe Holly Fischer may not have ever been found. We are all devastated to lose our beautiful daughter, sister and friend. We do ask that everyone respect the family’s privacy at this difficult time.”

During a morning news conference, Wilkes County sheriff’s office investigators said they would need heavy equipment to haul the wreckage of the SUV up the steep embankment where it had landed.

Fischer was last seen a week ago today, when she left her parents’ home in Knoxville, Tenn. Fischer told her parents she was returning to Charlotte, but family members said she might have changed her mind and headed for a family-owned condominium in eastern Ashe County.

The site of the news conference this morning, Piney Ridge Baptist Church on N.C. 16 North, is not far from the Ashe County line and is near where a motorcyclist spotted car tracks off the road late Sunday night.

The Sheriff’s Office said a motorcyclist who had been searching for Fischer stopped at the Wilbar Fire Department late Sunday and reported that he saw a location near the top of the mountain where a vehicle may have run off the road. He asked them to investigate.

First responders and fire department members reached the spot around 10 p.m. Sunday, but two attempts to rappel down to the vehicle were unsuccessful because of “rough terrain and darkness,” according to the sheriff’s office statement. The search was suspended at 1:30 a.m., but resumed at 8 a.m. Monday.

Two hours later, firefighters and sheriff’s deputies reached the vehicle and found Fischer’s body nearby.

Crews had searched for two days across the rugged mountainous terrain of Ashe and Wilkes counties late last week, trying to find a trace of Fischer. Ashe County Detective Phil Howell said crews searched on foot, by vehicle, and with helicopters, but they found no trace of the missing woman.

The search had focused on that area because authorities determined her cell phone was last used near North Wilkesboro.

“All areas have been thoroughly searched where we think she might be,” Howell said Friday.

Fischer’s father told authorities in Knox County, Tenn., that his daughter was distraught about an imminent divorce.

A friend of Fischer’s, Liz Stafford, said Sunday that authorities were able to use signals from the woman’s cell phone to trace her route last Monday. They determined she had gotten onto Interstate 40, but when she reached I-77 in Statesville, she turned north instead of south toward Charlotte. After turning north, she got off I-77 and U.S. 421 and headed for the mountains.

The last signal received was in North Wilkesboro, about 5 p.m. on Monday.

A number of Fischer’s friends from the Charlotte area gathered Sunday in Wilkes County and launched a search of their own. They had planned to return today for another search along N.C. 16. April Bethea contributed

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