(CNN) — The bodies of four men were found Friday in a river outside of an Oklahoma town where authorities have been searching for four missing men — though it was not clear if the remains were those of the missing, police said.
The discovery on Friday outside the town of Okmulgee came as police were searching for four local men who had disappeared after what investigators believe left a home in Okmulgee on bicycles Sunday night.
Still, the city’s police chief, as a courtesy, told the missing men’s families about the discovery of the remains before alerting the news media, he said.
“The natural (assumption) once the information comes out would be that their loved ones were found dead,” he notified them, stressing that he did not know the identities of the bodies, the city’s Police Chief, Joe Prentice, said in the statement Friday news conference.
Police have not said how the four dead men died. A Tulsa coroner will conduct autopsies and make identifications, Prentice said.
Prentice suspects foul play in the deaths of those found in the river, he told CNN on Saturday, but didn’t elaborate or directly answer questions about whether there were signs of trauma.
A passer-by called police after seeing something suspicious in a river outside of Okmulgee, a town of about 11,000 people about 35 miles south of Tulsa, on Friday afternoon, Prentice said.
Police came and saw remains sticking out of the river, Prentice said. Police initially said they didn’t know how many bodies were there, although hours later they said four male bodies had been removed from the water.
Four friends were reported missing this week
The bodies underscore a deepening mystery for police in the eastern city of Oklahoma: What happened to four friends who went missing in their hometown this week? And if the bodies aren’t those four men’s, then whose are they?
Four men who live 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,” police said around 8 p.m. Sunday, October 9.
“All were reportedly on bicycles,” the police statement said, without specifying why they had gathered or where they might have been going.
At least two men are said to have had cell phones with them. Police were able to trace the route from at least one phone east of town and then south, but the phone eventually turned off or lost power, police said.
Data shows the phones went to two junkyards — one about 5 miles from the river and the other about 10 to 12 miles from the river, Prentice told CNN on Saturday. Police have not said if the phones were found.
Because the phone data was not near the river, “we never considered that (river) a search area,” he told reporters Friday.
Prentice warned that the paths taken by the phones might not necessarily be the paths the men travelled.
No bicycles were found, Prentice said on Saturday.
Police received reports of sightings of the men after Sunday night, but investigators – including those reviewing surveillance video in the area – have not checked any of them, Prentice told reporters on Friday.
CNN’s attempt to reach the Tulsa coroner for comment Saturday was not immediately successful.
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