The bodies of four males were found Friday in a river outside an Oklahoma city where authorities have been searching for four missing men – though it wasn’t clear if the remains are those of the missing, police said.
Friday’s discovery outside the city of Okmulgee came as police have been looking for four local men who disappeared after, investigators believe, they left an Okmulgee home on bicycles Sunday evening.
Still, the city’s police chief told the missing men’s families of the remains’ discovery as a courtesy before he alerted news media, he said.
“The natural (assumption), once the information gets out … would be that their loved ones were found deceased,” so he notified them while emphasizing he didn’t know the bodies’ identities, city Police Chief Joe Prentice said in a Friday news conference.
Police haven’t said how the four dead males died. A medical examiner in Tulsa will conduct autopsies and make identifications, Prentice said.
Prentice suspects foul play in the deaths of those found in the river, he told CNN Saturday, but did not elaborate, and did not directly answer questions about whether there were signs of trauma.
A passerby called police after seeing something suspicious in a river Friday afternoon outside Okmulgee, a city of about 11,000 people roughly a 35-mile drive south of Tulsa, Prentice said.
Police arrived and saw remains protruding from the river, Prentice said. Police initially said they didn’t know how many bodies were there, though hours later they said four male bodies had been removed from the water.
Four friends reported missing this week
The bodies punctuate a deepening mystery for police in the eastern Oklahoma city: What happened to four friends who were reported missing from their hometown this week? And if the bodies aren’t those of these four men, whose are they?
Four men living in Okmulgee – Mark Chastain, 32; Billy Chastain, 30; Mike Sparks, 32; and Alex Stevens, 29 – were reported missing by relatives Monday night or early Tuesday, Okmulgee police said.
“All four are close friends and are believed to have left Billy Chastain’s home on the west side of Okmulgee” on Sunday, October 9, around 8 p.m., police said in their initial release.
“All were reportedly on bicycles,” the police statement reads, without elaborating about why they’d gathered or where they might have intended to go.
At least two men were believed to have cell phones with them. Police were able to trace the path of at least one phone to the east of town and then south, but the phone eventually was turned off or lost power, police said.
Data indicates the phones went to two salvage yards – one about 5 miles from the river, and the other about 10 to 12 miles from the river, Prentice told CNN on Saturday. Police haven’t said whether the phones have been recovered.
Because the phone data wasn’t near the river, “we never considered this (river) as a search area,” he told reporters Friday.
Prentice cautioned that the phones’ paths didn’t necessarily have to be the path that the men traveled.
No bicycles have been found, Prentice said Saturday.
Police have received reports of sightings of the men after Sunday evening, but investigators – including those checking surveillance videos in the area – have not verified any of them, Prentice told reporters Friday.
CNN’s attempt to reach the Tulsa medical examiner for comment Saturday was not immediately successful.
CNN’s Tina Burnside, Fredricka Whitfield, Andy Rose and Melissa Alonso contributed to this report.