Priscilla Bienkowski and Sophia Hernandez vanished from the Knolls at Utah Lake hours before a catastrophic windstorm hit the area.
While the search for the two teens has come to an end, friends and family are speaking out about the girls’ character and goals.
Both 18-year-old Bienkowski and 17-year-old Hernandez were ambitious, extroverted young women who craved fame and fortune, according to the girls’ families. Above that, however, both girls were drawn to helping others.
Stephanie Cowles remembers growing up with Bienkowski as her younger sister, adding that there was never a dull moment to be had.
“She is a very ambitious little girl,” Cowles said. “She is just a goofy little kid and young adult. She was the best sister you could ever ask for.”
More than that, Cowles said, Bienkowski was an amazing aunt to her 11-year-old daughter, teaching her to swim and building a relationship with her niece that was described as akin to sisterhood.
Weeks before her disappearance, Cowles and her daughter spoke to Bienkowski over the phone for hours.
Before her disappearance, Bienkowski had graduated Westlake High School and was taking general courses at Utah Valley University as she tried to determine what her future would hold.
Bienkowski had several different avenues she could take, Cowles said, but the budding college freshman was deciding between becoming a plastic surgeon or performer.
“That girl could sing like nobody’s business,” Cowles laughed. “She has such a beautiful voice.”
Bienkowski was always looking for a creative outlet that she could monetize, Cowles said. From planning her YouTube career to organizing a podcast with friends, Bienkowski was dead set on making it big.
“She didn’t just want to do one thing,” Cowles said. “She wanted to do everything.”
Bienkowski loved everyone she came in contact with, wanting to see each person succeed in their own ways, and despite her family being spread out across the nation — from New York to Nevada — she loved her family more than anything.
Cowles reminisced about a time when her and Bienkowski had taken a trip to a mall near them, laughing that Cowles wasn’t well-versed on the latest internet lingo.
Bienkowski, Cowles said, was fearless, jumping at the chance to ride one more rollercoaster or go through another haunted house. Cowles said Bienkowski was the only one in her family willing to brave scares and thrills with her.
It’s times like that, Cowles said, that she likes to think back on as she celebrates her sister’s life.
Cowles said since she heard the news that Bienkowski was found dead, she has been grieving the loss of an incredible sister, aunt and performer.
Rather than words on a page, Cowles said she would love for Bienkowski to be remembered for the caring, loving and ambitious young woman she was.
“She would have accomplished every single dream that she had,” she said. “I just want people to know that she would have done so much more in this world if she had the opportunity.”
Like Bienkowski, Hernandez was a social butterfly, which her family called her often because of her love of butterflies and her ability to make friends wherever she went.
Hernandez was a promising activist, working with her school’s “Latinos in Action” chapter as an active member, helping to empower Latino youth to support their communities and prepare for college.
Outside of school, Hernandez lent her time to Brookhaven Elementary School where she tutored kindergarten students in need.
She was a junior at Westlake High School with dreams of graduating in the coming years and attending the University of California, Los Angeles’ psychology program. Hernandez was drawn to the field of psychology because she wanted to help others.
Already a leader for Latino youth in her community, she was also a fierce advocate for her peers who felt left out.
“Sophia was loved by so many and touched so many lives,” her family said in a statement. “Sophia will forever be in our hearts and will be forever missed.”
Hernandez’ family and friends remember her for her humor as well as her outgoing personality, which led her to TikTok where she danced and sang. She loved to be on the beach or surrounded by nature as much as she could.
The girls were suspected to have gotten into the water near the Knolls at Utah Lake before 3 p.m. on May 6.
Shortly after, they were reported missing by their parents. The bodies of both girls were discovered on the afternoon of May 14. Neither Bienkowski nor Hernandez were wearing life jackets at the time of their disappearances.
Now, the families of the two girls are collaborating with Saratoga Springs and Utah Lake officials to erect a memorial to honor the lives of both girls.
The memorial, a metal life vest rack, will include a plaque that simply says, “Take one to save a life, leave one to save another.“ The plaque will also include the names of Bienkowski and Hernandez.
The girls’ funerals and memorials were held earlier this week.