Anu Solanki, the Des Plaines woman who's been the subject of an intense search since disappearing Monday, is alive and has left the Chicago area with a male friend, police said Friday.
Authorities from the Cook County Sheriff's Department announced they strongly believe Solanki left the Chicago area willingly with a 23-year-old man from California, based on cell phone records and e-mails the pair shared.
"We have come to the conclusion that they left voluntarily and the two of them are together," Sheriff Thomas Dart said.
Solanki, 24, is believed to be in the company a friend who recently graduated from the University of Southern California, Dart said.
Police said the two have had an ongoing relationship for a year but stopped short of calling it romantic, pending further evidence.
Dart added that Solanki's husband, Dignesh, was not aware of her relationship with the man, nor was anyone else in Solanki's family.
For two days, divers and police searched the Des Plaines River and its banks near Dam No. 1 Woods in Wheeling, where her car was found abandoned in the parking lot Monday afternoon.
Police and Solanki's family were additionally puzzled by cell phone calls Solanki made Monday afternoon to a female friend, saying she was driving to the river to dispose of a broken statue of a Hindu deity -- and that she thought she was being followed by a car with four men in it.
Dart said investigators have determined the call was routed through a cell tower near DeKalb -- indicating she was probably westbound on I-88, not in Wheeling, at the time.
Her cell phone is no longer working, Dart added. He would not comment on the companion's cell phone, credit card records or whether the pair might be trying to get on an airplane to further distance themselves from the area. Dart did not know how much cash Solanki might have taken with her.
Dart said the pair called each other while she was working at the Westin North Shore Hotel gift shop. Those calls originated from the Wheeling area.
Dart said Solanki left work around noon Monday and called her female friend at about 1:40 p.m. Her car was discovered at Dam 1 Woods around 4 p.m., missing a laptop computer and Solanki's passport. Police said they believe she met the man in the woods and the pair left together in his rental car.
Solanki's brother, Dharen Patel, told reporters Friday afternoon he's sad about what happened and that he wasn't aware of any problems in his sister's marriage that would have prompted her flight.
"I don't care why she did this. I'm just glad she's alive," he said. "We want her to know that we love her."
Solanki's husband was at his Des Plaines home resting Friday afternoon and did not want to talk to reporters, Patel said.
"He's very sad right now and can't believe this," he said.
Solanki's family does not know the man police say she's with, Patel said.
"I've never heard (his) name," Patel said.
Dignesh Solanki and the former Anu Patel dated for about two years before marrying in May 2007 in New Jersey. The statue of Ganesh that she was going to put in the river was at their wedding ceremony, but had broken in transit to Des Plaines and a Hindu priest advised them to dispose of it in moving water. The statue was not found.
Police said they are continuing to look for the pair and said it's possible they've gone to California. Dart said even if she went willingly, her family is still concerned.
In response to questions, Dart said the investigation into Solanki's disappearance has cost authorities about $250,000. He said he didn't know if the county would try to recover the costs.