‘True Life Crime: Runaway or Targeted Runner?’ on Paramount+ depicts the mysterious circumstances that led to the death of 24-year-old Jerika Binks in American Fork, Utah, in mid-February 2018. She went missing while going out on a run alone in the American Fork Canyon, and her remains were found over a year later in April 2019. However, there are still a lot of questions unanswered, and the episode tries to provide some viable closure for the family. If you wish to learn more about the case, here’s what we know.
Who is Jerika Binks?
Jerika Ann Binks was born to Suzanne Westring in American Fork in north-central Utah County, Utah, on June 16, 1993. She shared a strong bond with her family. She enjoyed dyeing her sister Sydney’s hair, cheered her brother Porter on as his biggest fan, and considered her mom to be her best friend. A naturally gifted athlete who adored the outdoors, Jerika often embarked on solitary runs, considering running her passion. She also dedicated herself to self-defense classes and enjoyed duck-hunting expeditions with Porter.
Jerika dreamed of opening her own gym someday, with her mom, Suzanne, describing her as “pure muscle.” She had graduated high school with a trade certificate, qualifying her to become a medical assistant. On February 18, 2018, she and her roommate planned to run the Timpanogos Cave Trial. However, owing it to be a Sunday, her roommate went to church, and the 24-year-old decided to set out on her own. At around 9:00 am, Jerika laced up her new minimalist running shoes and donned dark green leggings and a two-tone gray hoodie.
She left her wallet and ID behind, opting for her phone, water bottle, and earbuds. While she often listened to country music to set her pace, her sister Sydney, then 22, had recently introduced her to a Pandora pop workout station that she’d become obsessed with. Jerika didn’t rely on a tracking device like an Apple Watch or MapMyRun app. Shortly before 9:30 am, she turned onto North County Boulevard, and surveillance footage traced her journey past the Mormon temple.
At 9:38 am, surveillance recorded her jogging steadily past the Utah State Developmental Center. Jerika passed Walmart by 9:50 am as her route led her eastward toward the snow-covered mountains and the inviting trails of American Fork Canyon, a popular spot for hikers and rock climbers. During this stretch, surveillance video timestamps indicated she maintained a pace of just under nine minutes per mile. At 9:55 am, Jerika reached the entrance to the Highland Trail. The authorities could find no evidence confirming that Jerika ever completed it.
In February 2018, Jerika’s life was on an upswing. Her run began at the voluntary sober-living facility where she had resided for the past four months, starting in October 2017. She had faced struggles with drug addiction in the past, but her family noted that she was clean and deeply committed to rebuilding her life. Her mother, Suzanne, remarked, “We had a very open and honest relationship. I know she was doing well spiritually, mentally, physically.” Cell phone records verified that she had severed contact with individuals from her past.
Jerika had recently embarked on a new office job at a construction company and had saved up for a sleek black Mazda. The show noted how she had made plans with her mother and brother Jed Alvey, then 28, to go car shopping later in the week. Additionally, she eagerly anticipated a spiritual day trip to a sweat lodge she had scheduled for late February 2018. When Jerika failed to return to the sober living facility near 300 North and 1100 East by February 19 morning, an employee contacted Suzanne to relay the concerning news.
How Did Jerika Binks Die?
Suzanne’s immediate worry led to a search of her daughter’s room, where all her belongings, including two uncashed checks on her desk, wallet, and ID, were found. Attempts to reach her by phone went unanswered, raising suspicions. She promptly reported Jerika as missing that same day. However, nightfall arrived with heavy snow, accumulating over a foot while temperatures plummeted. The area experienced a high number of car accidents—217 within 12 hours—occupying all emergency responders.
Slippery conditions in the canyon hindered search efforts for Jerika. To further complicate the situation, a police error resulted in the missing-person report being filed in the wrong district, leading to bureaucratic delays instead of immediate action. By the time the search crews commenced their search, eight vital days had passed since Jerika’s disappearance. Suzanne recalled, “We lost really crucial time in the beginning.” Initially, search efforts focused on preliminary cell phone pings from Jerika’s phone.
It wasn’t until three weeks later, when more accurate cell phone data became available, that it became evident that searchers had concentrated on the wrong area, as cell phone pings aren’t always routed through the nearest tower. Consequently, the search was redirected toward the canyon. Brittany Lisenby, then 31, had been hiking in the canyon with her boyfriend and dogs on the day Jerika disappeared. She reported hearing gunshots, which startled her dogs. Despite Brittany’s tip, no tangible leads emerged, and Jerika’s family offered a $5,000 reward.
Her uncle, Paul Conover, canvassed her running route, going door-to-door to inquire for clues. On March 28, the park staff obtained wildlife camera footage. It captured a woman running down the Timpanogos Cave Trail at 1:30 pm, within a winter-closed section of the park, on February 18. Jerika had been outdoors for approximately four hours at this point, a typical duration for her runs. She was heading toward the road and the canyon’s exit, as depicted from the rear in the close-range footage.
Detective Pratt of the Utah Sheriff’s Office noted, “We searched that trail three or four times for days with search and rescue, planes, helicopters, and drones. We went down the shoots, across ledges, we went everywhere a person could go.” However, with the lack of evidence or leads, the case eventually turned cold. Wild speculations circulated on social media, including a potential mountain lion attack, Jerika running away on her own, or her falling victim to a possible predator. However, all these theories lacked the evidence necessary for any conviction.
The search came to a tragic end when a 70-year-old hiker stumbled across Jerika’s remains about a steep ravine on the north side of the Canyon on April 14, 2019. The state medical examiner used dental records to determine it was her. The discovery of her remains with a broken leg strongly suggested that she had veered off the usual hiking route and tumbled into the ravine. Sgt. Spencer Cannon of the Utah County Sheriff’s Office categorized Jerika’s death as an accident primarily due to the location of her body.
He clarified that the ravine where she was discovered presented a formidable challenge, even for highly experienced hikers, making it implausible for someone to transport her body there intentionally. He further asserted that the likelihood of foul play, such as someone harming her and then disposing of her in that location, was extremely remote. Her brother, Jed, expressed that he wasn’t shocked, as his sister’s adventurous nature might have driven her to venture onto a more challenging hike, ultimately leading to her unfortunate fate.