2 weekends ago (the weekend of October 15-17) was homecoming weekend down at good ol' NIU, however it was a bit overshadowed as news broke that weekend that a freshman art student - Antinette "Toni" Keller - was reported missing by friends that Friday evening. They said she was last seen Thursday afternoon, just past noon, walking with her art portfolio towards a park not too far from campus, just off of the downtown area of DeKalb, which many students frequented due to the close proximity of the downtown area to campus.
Following via the Facebook page that was created for her missing persons case, various groups on campus were going out regularly to help search for her and the local area police were using dogs to try and find/follow her scent, however they said the dogs seemed to lose her scent near I-88, leading some to believe maybe she hitchhiked a ride. There was also talk that maybe she hopped on a train to California as the park she was headed to had train tracks nearby that led out that way. It was also reported that some of her belongings, including her dorm key, had been found in the park.
The speculation went on for about a week until officials came forward with news that they found human remains in the park shortly after Toni was believed to have gone missing. Many people were wondering why they withheld that info for a good week or so, but turns out the remains had been burned and it took nearly a week for them to be able to confirm that they were in fact human!
Her case went from a missing person's investigation to a "death investigation."
While it hasn't been confirmed that the remains they found were hers, they did report finding more of her belongings near the burnt remains, so everyone's pretty sure they're hers, despite some still clinging to hope that she may still be alive.
Throughout this past week the officials and FBI have requested people come forward with any information they might have regarding her or the park the remains were found in and I guess they met with many people and scheduled follow-up interviews since they started the case. Soon after the press conference regarding finding the remains, her case was bumped up to a "homicide investigation."
The other day we learned they had a man in custody - a local resident known for frequenting the park who had missed showing up for his 2nd interview with the police. Turns out he stole his mother's car and fled to Mexico before the FBI found him in Louisana and then less than 24hrs later they were able to extradite him back up here to Illinois. They haven't released a lot of the details regarding why they're pretty sure he's the murderer as they don't want to compromise the case, but he is being charged with 5 counts of 1st degree murder, criminal sexual assault, and arson; his bail is $5M.
I hope they really got the right guy and it just really saddens me that something like this happened down there. They haven't revealed how he killed her (although they say there was no previous connection between them, calling her a victim of chance and opportunity), but it sounds like rape was involved and then to have been burned... I hope she was dead prior to him burning the body - could you imagine those being the last few moments of your life??
While DeKalb isn't the safest town (which really such a town doesn't exist), it's never been a real dangerous one either - when I was there the only problem we had early on was an issue with minor drunken stabbings happening on the weekend over near Greek Row and no one was seriously injured. While I was a little nervous leaving the theater at night and always had an employee escort with me as we walked to our cars right next to the exit, I never thought twice about walking across campus or in the area during the day. This happened in broad daylight on a Thursday afternoon! Being an art major, I walked plenty of times across campus to get from the dorms on one end to the art building clear on the other side of campus! It just really makes you stop and think about how it could happen to anyone and that you have to be careful even in the daytime now!
The campus has since taken increased security measures to make sure the students feel safe - they've extended the late-night ride service from 4pm-8am and have 24hr escorts available and they've made it so that in order to enter any residence hall, you need to actually live there so long are the days of having visitors over or friends stay with you in the dorms for the weekend - I'm curious how that affects the dining halls, as each resident hall has a different dining hall in it (and 2 of them are kinda crappy so everyone tended to walk over to one of the others for dinner).
It seems like NIU can't escape tragedy - first the Valentine's Day shooting in 2008 and now this grisly homicide. Aside from the campus, DeKalb is smaller community with the majority of the non-college residents being those that either commute into Chicago for work or are farmers. Homicide's just aren't common there like they are in larger cities.
Sorry for the grim post today, but I figured since it was a "whatever tickles your fancy" post I'd take this opportunity to post about what happened at my aluma mater as it's been on my mind this past week. And no, I didn't know her, however I went to the school there, only having graduated 3 years ago and lived down there for 6 years, having friends and former co-workers that still live down there too that I occasionally visit, and working at the theater I came in contact with a lot of people in the community on a daily/weekly basis so my heart goes out to my NIU Huskie family and the DeKalb community.