ST. JOHNSBURY, Vermont (Isabelle Zehnder reporting) — Police say a body found Monday is believed to be that of missing 33-year-old Melissa Jenkins, the single mom and science teacher who went missing from St. Johnsbury, Vermont Sunday and whose SUV was found abandoned late that evening.
[UPDATE: Police have ruled the case a homicide].
The body was found in Barnet only 16 hours after Melissa went missing, ABC’s Good Morning America reports. Barnet is a town not far from St. Johnsbury where Melissa lived and worked.
Police said Tuesday that they can’t disclose details and they don’t know if this is an isolated incident. As such, they expect the public to “use all diligence and vigilance while out and about.
“This is something you would never think of in this small town we have here,” family friend Ron Craig told ABC News.
Watch GMA report.
Vermont State Police Lt. Bob Cushing told Fox News that Melissa’s 2006 silver Suzuki was found at 11:30 p.m. Sunday along Goss Hollow Road in St. Johnsbury, not far from her home. The engine was still running and her young son was still inside.
Detectives searching for Melissa in a remote area said they found what appeared to be disturbed ground. That is when they made the gruesome discovery.
“Upon further investigation detectives located a body. The body was determined to be that of a young, adult female,” Detective Sgt. Walter Smith said in a press release Monday.
Early in the investigation detectives determined Melissa was taken by force.
“Responding troopers observed evidence at the scene to indicate that Ms. Jenkins’ disappearance is the result of foul play as evidence present showed signs that a struggle had occurred,” Detective Smith said.
Lt. Cushing confirmed with Fox News that authorities found suspicious evidence, but declined to elaborate on what was discovered. Cushing noted the SUV had not run out of gas.
Melissa was apparently murdered on a dark Vermont road Sunday night.
Friends told GMA they believe she left home Sunday night to help someone who was having car trouble, but they don’t know who she planned to meet. Eric Berry, Melissa’s cousin by marriage and whose daughter is Melissa’s goddaughter, said he believes she was rushing to someone’s aid when she vanished.
“She left her house with the idea, I think, to try to help somebody, and that’s as far as I’m going to go with that, because I don’t want to damage the investigation,” Berry said.
Vermont State Police Maj. Ed Ledo said he could not give details on the condition of the body found Monday. An autopsy is planned for Tuesday.
A family friend is caring for Melissa’s 2-year-old son who was found unharmed in Melissa’s vehicle that’s engine was still running at the time it was discovered.
The toddler’s father, B.J. Robertson, would not comment on Melissa’s disappearance. Police said Melissa had no restraining orders on anyone.
The story is reminiscent of the young 20-year-old mom, Krista Dittmeyer, whose toddler was found in her car that was found idling, unharmed. Three men were arrested on charges of robbery and killing in Krista’s case.
Who was Melissa?
Most importantly, Melissa was a mom who, for what appear to be reasons beyond her control, has lost the ability to raise her own baby.
Her friend Marion Cairns said, “She’d cut her arms off before she’d let anybody touch that boy. I mean, that boy meant everything to her. Marion said she believes someone or something forced her to leave her son behind.
Melissa Jenkins was a single 33-year-old mom who taught science at t he prestigious St. Johnsbury Academy. St. Johnsbury is a town about 40 miles south of the Canadian border.
The prestigious school of about 970 students was established in the 1840s. One of its alumni includes former President Calvin Coolidge. The school also serves as a public school for the town.
Melissa was a girls’ freshman basketball coach and dorm proctor until the birth of her son. She graduated from Lyndon State College with a degree in natural science and geology. Headmaster Tom Lovett told Fox News she was working on her master’s degree.
“She’s got a real gift with students who either haven’t liked science before or learning science doesn’t come easy to them,” Lovett said. “She’s got a real gift with them.”
Melissa worked as a waitress at night at The Creamery Restaurant in Danville. The restaurant was the location where friends and co-workers gathered Monday afternoon who were curious or concerned, Fox News reports.
“We all know her. It’s a tough thing right now,” said Cairns, the owner of the restaurant. She described Jenkins as bright, pretty, a good mother and fun to be around.
Police would like to speak to anyone who may have driven Goss Hollow Road in St. Johnsbury on Sunday evening between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. Anyone with any information about this case is asked to immediately call the Vermont State Police in St. Johnsbury at 802-748-3111.
Follow this National Missing Persons news writer:
- Click on SUBSCRIBE link above for instant updates
- Visit my Blog
- Follow me on Facebook
- Follow me on Twitter