Missing US student found dead in Madrid river

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The body of a U.S. exchange student from California was pulled out of a Madrid river on Tuesday, 10 days after he disappeared following a night on the town, a police official said.

The cause of death was not known but there were no immediate signs of foul play in the death of 22-year-old San Diego State University business student Austin Bice, the National Police official said.

An autopsy will be carried out Tuesday or Wednesday. It is not clear when the results will be released but the information will be given to Bice's family and to a Spanish investigating magistrate, the Madrid regional government said.

Bice's body was found in the Manzanares River, a shallow, slow-moving waterway that runs through western Madrid, in a spot not far from the nightclub where he was last seen in the early hours of Feb. 26, said the police official.

She spoke on condition of anonymity in line with department rules.

Bice, from Carlsbad, California, was studying international business at Carlos III University and had been in Spain since January. Roommates had reported him missing after he failed to return home following the night out.

His father Larry Bice traveled to Madrid to help in the search, and did not return a telephone message left Tuesday seeking comment.

Bruce Rowe, a co-worker of Larry Bice, told The Associated Press in an email that the family was waiting for the father to return from Spain on a flight late Tuesday before making a statement and asked media to respect their privacy in the meantime.

The body was found after a roughly 500-meter (550-yard) stretch of the river containing several locks was drained as part of the search, police said.

After Bice disappeared, friends plastered posters of him around the city. On Monday night, 150 students held a candlelight vigil for Bice at San Diego State University, where he was a senior participating in a semester-long exchange program with the Spanish university.

"The San Diego State campus is saddened by this tragic news which confirms our worst fears," President Stephen Weber said in a statement. "Our thoughts this morning are with Austin's family and friends who have our deepest sympathies."

Bice's father has said his son was physically fit, tall — six-foot-four — and had recently climbed Mt. Whitney in California with him.

Maria Garcia, a friend of Bice's, told The Associated Press over the weekend that Bice and others had been drinking at an apartment before going out to the club. A doorman suggested Bice rest a while before going in because he looked unwell. A friend then stayed outside with him until Bice said he was going to walk home.

On Tuesday, Garcia said she had no idea how Bice had vanished.

Carlos Lopez-Terradas, who runs the exchange program at Carlos III University, described Bice as a popular young man with lots of friends. The university has sent an e-mail to all students and staff informing them of Bice's death, and flags there were flying at half-staff Tuesday in his honor. The university has also contacted Bice's family about holding a memorial ceremony for him in Spain.

"We are crushed. We still cannot believe it," Lopez-Terradas said.

Bice's friend, Jayson Nicholson, 24, a San Diego State University alum who played softball and kickball with him, said he was struggling to make it through the day Tuesday after hearing of his death, only hours after he tried to encourage friends at the vigil he helped organize to hold out hope that he would still be found alive.

"I personally was in shock and denial at first and then went into hysterics once it kind of settled in," he said. "I've just been crying today."

Nicholson was asking those who attended the vigil to honor Bice by wearing the black and red ribbons with Bice's name on them that were given to them at the event. The ribbons are the colors of Bice's favorite basketball team, the SDSU Aztecs.

The U.S. Embassy in Madrid expressed condolences to Bice's family and said in a statement that it would "continue to offer all possible consular support."

In postings on his blog, Bice wrote about his experience in Spain — touching on themes ranging from Spanish food, a trip to Valencia, his initial difficulty with Spanish, heavy homework assignments and Madrid's vibrant nightlife.

Bice was amazed at the party scene, with both Spanish and foreign students often staying out until dawn, but said in a Feb. 9 post that he wasn't imbibing as much as others.

"Before I came to Spain, I was told by all of my advisers that I should try to keep calm at parties and not try to be the typical loud and drunk American," Bice wrote. "I have done exactly that, staying back and watching hilarious drunken events occur from a relatively sober mind. The Spaniards at the party were not following along with this ideology."

On his last post on Feb. 25, he said he was going out: "Hopefully it will not disappoint (I assume it will not). It's in Madrid and it should be a fun night."

He added: "Now, I truly must be going, my Spanish roommates are expecting me to prepare some authentic American food ... Hope they like Hamburgers!"


Ciaran Giles and Alan Clendenning in Madrid, and Julie Watson in San Diego contributed to this report.