Body found in search for Denise Pikka Thiem on Spanish Christian pilgrimage route.
The body of Denise Pikka Thiem, 41, of Arizona, was discovered Friday shortly after the police detained a man who owned the property, near the town of Astorga. Thiem went missing April 5, when she was due to start another leg of her pilgrimage, from Astorga to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.
Spanish television showed officers leading the handcuffed suspect, whom local news media later identified as Miguel Ángel Muñoz Blas, 39. He was arrested Friday in a bar in the village of Grandas de Salime, about 120 miles from his property.
Speaking from Astorga, Spain’s interior minister, Jorge Fernández Díaz, told reporters that the suspect had a police record, without elaborating. As part of their investigation, the police also want to establish whether Thiem’s death can be connected to reports of threats and harassment along the Camino.
Thiem quit her job last year in Phoenix to travel, starting in Asia and arriving in Spain in March.
After she went missing, local authorities insisted that her disappearance was an isolated case that should not be interpreted as evidence of an increased safety risk along the Camino, a major tourism boon to Spain.
Still, Thiem’s disappearance – as well as pressure from her family and friends – prompted Sen. John McCain of Arizona to write last month to Mariano Rajoy, Spain’s prime minister, to request that the FBI be involved in the search efforts.
The identification of Thiem’s body was confirmed by the director general of the Spanish police, Ignacio Cosidó, who wrote on Twitter: “Following months of intense investigations, our agents have found the body of Denise and detained the alleged perpetrator.”
In recent years, the Camino has gained fame thanks to books and movies like “The Way,” which inspired Thiem to travel to Spain, according to her friends. In 1984, just 423 pilgrims were certified as having completed the Camino to the cathedral of Santiago, which is worshipped as St. James’ final resting place. Last year, a record 237,810 pilgrims were certified.