(ST. JOHNSBURY, Vt.) — Vermont teacher Melissa Jenkins was murdered, an autopsy concluded Tuesday, but police declined to disclose the cause of death.
The body of Jenkins, 33, who was a teacher from St. Johnsbury, Vt., was found on a dark Vermont road Sunday night. Her SUV was found running with her 2-year-old son Tie inside.
“We are deeply saddened by the tragic death of Ms. Jenkins, and our thoughts are with her family and friends,” the lead investigator, State Police Maj. Ed Ledo, said in a statement. “We remain committed to solving this case and to identify and bring to justice the person or persons responsible for the death of Ms. Jenkins.”
Residents of the town of fewer than 8,000 people, which sits roughly 40 miles from the Canadian border, were stunned after her disappearance and the discovery of the body.
Jenkins’ uncle, Marty Beattie, told ABC News the toddler is being cared for by the slain woman’s parents while they work out a plan with the child’s father, B.J. Robertson.
Robertson said the child has been unable to express what happened to his mother.
For now, he told ABC News he has “just been loving him when I am with him.”
Beattie said he believes police have accumulated enough evidence to result in an arrest in the near future.
“She put herself in a bad situation. Wrong place, wrong time,” he said.
Police warned the tight-knit town to remain vigilant, fearing the killer could strike again.
“I cannot disclose the details of how the body was found or the condition of the body, but this death is considered suspicious,” Det. Sgt. Walter Smith said Monday. “We don’t know if it’s an isolated incident. We expect the public to use all diligence and vigilance while out and about.”
More than 100 friends and family members braved frigid winds at a candlelight service Monday for the teacher, who taught science at St. Johnsbury Academy, a boarding school of about 970 students. The single mother, who was also working on her master’s degree, had a knack for teaching young people, according to St. Johnsbury headmaster Tom Lovett.
Jenkins was also a freshmen basketball coach and a dorm proctor until the birth of her son. She also worked a second job, moonlighting part-time as a waitress at the Creamery Restaurant in Danville, Vt.
Jenkins’ vehicle was recovered Sunday evening near signs of a struggle after a friend who had been looking for the mother contacted the police. The body that is believed to be her was found in the nearby town of Barnet, Vt. Police say Jenkins had no restraining orders out on anyone.
Family members believe Jenkins left home to help someone with car trouble, but exactly whom she planned to meet is a mystery.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Stephan Rockefeller & Nate Eaton, EastIdahoNews.com
Thom Patterson, CNN
Jacqueline Howard, CNN
Sarah Anderson, Deseret News