Questions Surround 2 Separate Cases Of 3 People Found Dead After Going Missing In California

Former couple Janette Pantoja and Juan Almanza Zavala and teenager Kiely Rodni vanished within hours of each other in Nevada County.

Janette Pantoja and Juan Almanza Zavala [left] and Kiely Rodni [right] vanished within hours of each other in Nevada County.

Former couple Janette Pantoja and Juan Almanza Zavala and teenager Kiely Rodni vanished within hours of each other in Nevada County.

Photo by: Yuba City Police Department [left]; Placer County Sheriff's Office [right]

Yuba City Police Department [left]; Placer County Sheriff's Office [right]

By: Aaron Rasmussen

A former couple in California was found dead 11 days after they seemingly vanished in the same county where a teenage girl also disappeared less than 24 hours earlier under similarly mysterious circumstances.

Around 11 p.m. on Aug. 6, 2022, Janette “JJ” Pantoja, 29, texted her boyfriend and let him know she would be home in around 30 minutes from a car show she attended in Reno, Nevada, with her ex, 36-year-old Juan Almanza Zavala. The pair remained friends after their breakup years earlier, Fox News reported.

“She just never communicated anything other than that,” Alejandra Pantoja said of her sister, noting, “She’s not like that.”

Around 23 hours earlier and about 70 miles from where Pantoja and Zavala’s phones last pinged, 16-year-old Kiely Rodni also went missing after attending a graduation party with hundreds of juveniles at the Prosser Family Campground in Truckee, California, Nevada County.

Following Rodni’s disappearance, as many as 300 law enforcement officials in the county worked a massive search for the teenager, which, by the time it wound down, included thousands of man-hours by land, boat and air, according to reports.

Pantoja’s sister, Alejandra, pointed out at the time that her sister’s case wasn’t receiving even close to the same attention even though the disappearances all occurred in the same county.

“They’ve been telling us they were going to send an aerial search and they haven’t done that,” Alejandra said of Yuba City authorities, Fox News reported on Aug. 16, 2022.

“How is it that they’re doing a big deal for her but not making a big deal for our family member?” she asked. “It’s not okay.”

Like Rodni’s family, Alejandra and her loved ones worried that Pantoja and Zavala may have been met with foul play. At one point, Alejandra claimed she called a Yuba City detective to find out information about her sister, “and they were like we can’t keep in contact with you every day.”

“I just feel like if something happened to them, or if [someone] did something to her, they’re just giving [potential suspects] time to run,” she explained.

On Aug. 17, the Yuba City Police Department and Nevada County Sheriff’s Office said in a joint statement that a man called 911 after spotting what was later identified as Pantoja and Zavala’s 2002 Ford Explorer down an embankment and covered by brush.

“Upon further investigation, skid marks were visible in the dirt of the highway shoulder,” officials said. “Once first responders made their way down to the vehicle, they observed a male and female outside of the vehicle. Both parties were deceased.”

The California Highway Patrol, the statement notes, opened a vehicle accident investigation.

In Rodni’s case, authorities scaled back the search for the missing girl after around a week. Investigators moved into what Nevada County Sheriff Capt. Sam Brown called “a more limited, but continuous search and rescue effort.”

“We’ve pulled in a ton of resources towards that goal and I think to date we’ve had like over 9,000 man-hours into searching, which is pretty astronomical,” he said at an Aug. 15 press conference. “Our biggest problem is where do we go and how do we keep sustaining this?”

“We still don’t know what happened to her,” the teenager’s mother, Lindsey Rodni-Nieman, told KNTV at the time. “We’re just working to piece together those last moments that she was at the party to figure out where she did go and with whom.”

On Aug. 21, 2022, a volunteer dive group using two sonar boats located Rodni’s 2013 Honda CRV submerged in 14 feet of water 55 feet offshore, and the teenager’s body was in the back of the vehicle. The discovery was made near where investigators searched at the beginning of the investigation, CBS News reported.

Officials have not yet released Rodni’s cause of death. The Nevada County Sheriff’s Office would neither confirm nor deny if they suspect foul play in the case until after the investigation concludes and final autopsy and toxicology results are available, according to the Reno Gazette.

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