Fernando Asturizaga Credit: Via Montgomery County police

Updated 6:15 p.m.: An inmate found dead in his prison cell hours after he was named a “person of interest” in an 18-year-old unsolved Bethesda homicide case died by suicide, according to a state prison spokesman.

Fernando Asturizaga, 51, hanged himself, Gerard Shields, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said Thursday. He was found unresponsive in his cell during the evening of April 12.

Earlier that day, Montgomery County police had announced a renewed interest in the death of Bethesda woman Alison Thresher, then 45, who disappeared in the spring of 2000. Asturizaga was, at the time of his death, serving a sentence of more than 160 years for the rape and abuse of Thresher’s daughter, Hannah, who was a child at the time of his abuse. He was convicted on those charges in 2012.

Thresher’s body has never been found, but new evidence led police to believe that she was killed in her apartment in May 2000 and that someone had attempted to destroy evidence at the scene.

Though there wasn’t enough evidence to name Asturizaga as a suspect, police announced detectives were looking for more information about his possible connection to her death. Thresher had grown suspicious of Asturizaga’s involvement with her daughter before she disappeared, and Hannah Thresher remembered him telling her after her mother disappeared that “things would be easier for us now that she was gone.”

Hannah and Sam Thresher, now 30 and 28, had made an impassioned plea at the noon press conference to the public for any information about Asturizaga.

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At 8:45 p.m., a correctional officer at Western Correctional Institution in Cumberland found him unresponsive. 

WTOP first reported the cause of death on Thursday.

The state medical examiner’s office ruled the death a suicide, but Shields wrote in a statement that department investigators “are still reviewing the circumstances of Asturizaga’s death but have ruled out foul play. Preliminary findings also indicate that department employees were not negligent in performing their duties.”

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Capt. Paul Starks, a police spokesman, said the investigation into Thresher’s death remains open.

“[Asturizaga’s] death means they have one less person to speak with, but he’s been incarcerated for five or six years now and hadn’t provided information in that time that could help us close the case,” Starks said. “The detectives are going to continue to work on this to bring justice to Alison Thresher and to bring closure to her family members, especially Hannah and Sam.”