The search for a missing woman in the UK took a grim turn Sunday when a body was discovered in a river about a mile from where Nicola Bulley was last known to be three weeks ago. Lancashire Police said Bulley's family was notified of the discovery in the English village of St. Michael's on Wyre. The body was recovered but has not been identified. Home Secretary Suella Braverman said it was a "heart-breaking" development in the search for the 45-year-old mother of two, who disappeared while walking her dog on the morning of Jan. 27. Her dog was found wandering alone, while her cellphone was recovered from a bench by the "steep riverbank," per the BBC. The phone was "still logged into a group work call," CNN reports.
Days before the body was found, police had criticized members of the public for speculating about the mortgage adviser's disappearance shortly after dropping off her young daughters at school. The rumors not only distracted from the investigation but were "quite shocking and really hurtful to the family," Det. Supt. Rebecca Smith told the press on Wednesday. "In 29 years' police service, I've never seen anything like it." The AP describes "a circus of sorts in the tiny community … as speculation on social media spurred unofficial searches and attracted amateur sleuths." Locals hired a security firm after reports of social media influencers and others peering into windows, reports the BBC.
Authorities received their own share of criticism, including from Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, after revealing that Bulley was a "high-risk" missing person struggling with the onset of menopause and alcohol issues at the time of her disappearance. Sunak said he was "concerned" about the release of such private information, per Sky News. Others accused police of sexism, per CNN. The fact that it potentially took three weeks to find a body so close to Bulley's last known location, along a river that is "a small stream in parts," will only add to the criticism, writes BBC editor Mark Easton. The police department said Friday that it would conduct an internal review of the case, per the AP. (Read more missing person stories.)