Riley Strain's Tragic Death: Every Twist in the Search for Answers

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Originally appeared on E! Online

What happened to Riley Strain?

The 22-year-old University of Missouri student was last seen alive in downtown Nashville on March 8 after a night of bar-hopping with some fraternity buddies, according to police. And even as the search for Riley entered its second week, his family continued to hope for the best, even as they steeled themselves for the worst.

"We're moving forward as, you know, he's coming home and we're graduating in May," Riley's stepdad Chris Whiteid told NBC News on March 16, "and life goes on just as normal."

But two weeks after Riley disappeared, his body was pulled out of the Cumberland River on the city's west side, about eight miles away from where he started out.

The case had drawn national attention because he had gone missing after being kicked out of a bar owned by country singer Luke Bryan, so online speculation ran wild. Was he very drunk? Did he get in a fight? Who saw him last? Surely someone knew what happened?

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So even though the Nashville Metropolitan Police Department shared "no foul play-related trauma was observed" when his body was found, armchair sleuths primed for a shocking twist may not have been prepared for his death being an accident.

Riley Strain

While toxicology results are pending, the autopsy performed March 23 found no evidence of foul play-related trauma, a police spokesperson told E! News, and Riley's death "continues to appear accidental."

Still, the term "accidental" is a manner of death, not an explanation as to how Riley ended up in the river. His family had questions of their own, so they independently ordered another autopsy.

On March 29, police told E! News that the case remains an "open pending investigation" and they are waiting for the results of the second autopsy.

Here's everywhere the case has gone since the night Riley went missing:

Riley Strain's Final Hours

<p>Riley Strain's Final Hours</p>

Riley Strain, 22, a business and financial planning major at the University of Missouri, was among a big group of Delta Chi fraternity brothers that arrived in Nashville by bus on Friday, March 8.

They checked into The Tempo hotel on Rosa L. Parks Boulevard, a short walk to the nightlife on Broadway.

<p>"When they left Tempo, the went down to, I believe, <strong><a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Miranda Lambert;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Miranda Lambert</a></strong>'s bar [Casa Rosa] first, spent probably about an hour and 15 minutes or so, maybe a little longer, there," Riley's stepdad <strong>Chris Whiteid</strong> later told <a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:NBC affiliate WSMV 4;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">NBC affiliate WSMV 4</a>, describing what he knew of Riley's whereabouts before he went missing. Then the group went to the <strong><a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Garth Brooks;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Garth Brooks</a></strong>-owned Friends in Low Places Bar & Honky Tonk, where Riley FaceTimed his mom, <strong>Michelle Whiteid</strong>, at around 7:30 p.m. </p> <p>"I said, 'Have fun, be careful, I love you,'" Michelle told WSMV. "I got an 'I love you' and that's the last I heard."</p> <p>Chris explained that he overheard Riley detailing his evening to Michelle. "He didn't even sound like he had been drinking a lot," Chris <a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:told NBC News;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">told NBC News</a>, adding that Riley continued to text with his mom for another hour or so after they spoke. </p> <p>Through bank records, it was later established that Riley also visited <a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Kid Rock;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link "><strong>Kid Rock</strong></a>’s bar before heading to Luke’s 32 Bridge Food + Drink, with <a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Luke Bryan;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link "><strong>Luke Bryan</strong></a>’s establishment being the last of the four places visited on the night he disappeared.</p> <p>“He'd left Garth’s and went to Kid Rock's, and then spent an hour at Kid Rock's,” Chris explained in <a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:an April 16 NewsNation interview;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">an April 16 NewsNation interview</a>. “Then showed up at Luke Bryant's at 9:15, I believe what the detective told us. He was in Luke Bryan’s from 9:15 to 9:36—21 minutes.”</p>

Riley Is Escorted Out of Luke Bryan's Bar

<p>Riley Is Escorted Out of Luke Bryan's Bar</p>

<p>It wasn't Riley's first time in Nashville, according to his stepdad.</p> <p>But he and his friends "got separated," Chris told <a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:WSMV on March 11;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">WSMV on March 11</a>. "The boys called him, and he said I'm walking back to my hotel. They didn't think anything about it." </p>

<p>But a security camera outside an escape room business captured Riley on Third Avenue North cutting across a parking lot and going in a different direction. Another camera recorded him on Gay Street crossing First Avenue North at 9:47 p.m. </p> <p>Upon reaching the corner, he stopped and, staggering a bit, looked back in the direction he'd just come from before continuing down the street. (Police <a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:shared both videos;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">shared both videos</a> on social media during the investigation.)</p> <p>Chris said they wanted to see "what was happening before the parking lot, and we'd also like to know what happened after he crossed down onto Gay Street because there's such a void that we haven't seen. There's something there that's going to fill some gaps."</p> <p>Riley's father, <strong>Ryan Gilbert</strong>, <a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:told WSMV;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">told WSMV</a>, "He made it as far as we know, basically to the James Robertson [Parkway] Bridge, and that's the critical time where things went dark." The last Life360 ping from Riley's phone came from near the bridge, which crosses the Cumberland River, according to his parents and stepdad.</p> <p>On April 10, the family was approached by a new witness who claimed to have interacted with Riley on the night he disappeared. <strong>Chris Dingman</strong>, a friend of Riley’s family, <a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:described the witness’ testimony as “huge.”;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">described the witness’ testimony as “huge.”</a> However, authorities at the Nashville Police Department <a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:confirmed to E! News;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">confirmed to E! News</a> April 12 that the statement had been recanted. </p>

<p>According to what Riley's friends told Chris, as he detailed to WSMV, when the rest of the group got back to the hotel that night at around 3:15 a.m. and saw he wasn't there, they went back out to look for him and tried to track him using Snapchat locations. When that proved fruitless, and then Riley wasn't to be found in any of the other rooms where roughly 30 members of the fraternity were staying, the guys called Chris and Michelle.</p> <p>He and Riley's mom jumped in the car, Chris said, and drove straight to Nashville from Springfield, Mo.</p> <p>Later, another patron in the hotel revealed to the family that they heard loud noises and stated the students were, “freaking out about something,” on the night of March 8.</p> <p>In an April 16 interview with NewsNation, Riley’s father Ryan clarified that another member of the fraternity had “hurt his hand.” As he explained, “Apparently it didn’t have anything to do with Riley.”</p> <p>During the same interview, Riley's family also emphasized that 14 hours passed before the fraternity reported him missing to the authorities. </p>

The Investigation Begins

<p>The Investigation Begins</p>

<p>Meanwhile, the family retroactively expressed frustration with Riley’s friends.</p> <p>"Why wouldn't they have called the police when they got back at 3:15 in the morning and didn't see him then?" Michelle told NewsNation April 16. "I don't know."</p> <p>The fraternity brothers reportedly continued with their partying plans while Chris and Michelle searched hospitals for Riley March 9. </p> <p>"We come back and they're coming back, some of them from the party and they're waving at us as we're sitting in the truck," Chris added. "How does that make you feel?"</p>

The First Trace of Riley Strain

<p>The First Trace of Riley Strain</p>

The Search Hits the Water

<p>The Search Hits the Water</p>

Riley Strain's Body Is Found

<p>Riley Strain's Body Is Found</p>

Two Autopsies

<p>Two Autopsies</p>

Saying Goodbye to Riley Strain

<p>Saying Goodbye to Riley Strain</p>

Riley's family continues to search for answers.

<p>Riley's family continues to search for answers.&nbsp;</p>

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