ARKANSAS CITY, Kan. – Authorities in this southeast Kansas town worked to build a case against a county inmate who might be linked to the disappearance of a college student whose car was dredged from a nearby lake — and who allegedly stalked members of the woman's dance team.
"It is just scary. It could have happened to any one of us," said Ashley Cochran, a member of the Cowley College dance team who said she had been followed.
On Tuesday, authorities searching for Jodi Sanderholm, 19, found a female body and a car belonging to the dancer. Police were withholding confirmation of the body's identity pending results of an autopsy at a Wichita forensic center.
But a funeral home director in Arkansas City told The Wichita Eagle on Wednesday that the body was that of Sanderholm and that her family has completed funeral arrangements.
Brandon Welch, of Rindt-Erdman Funeral Home, told the newspaper the death certificate lists Tuesday as the day of Sanderholm's death "because that's the day she was found."
On Friday, the day Sanderholm disappeared, one woman told members of the Cowley College dance team she was being stalked by a man who worked at a Subway restaurant in Arkansas City, a town of about 11,600 people just north of the Oklahoma line and about 46 miles south of Wichita.
"Jodi was real concerned about that. He is just crazy," Cochran said.
But Sanderholm's concern was for the other women, and she expressed no fear at that time for her own safety, Cochran said.
Sanderholm was last seen at a Subway restaurant around 1 p.m. on Friday.
Rama Peroo, spokesman for Cowley College, said Wednesday that the school was not aware of the stalking allegations until hearing it on the news this week.
At the Ark City Dance studio, where Sanderholm worked and taught, owner Terri Schroeder said she wasn't taken any special precautions. "Not yet. We are still in regrouping," Schroeder said.
Cowley County District Attorney Christopher Smith said Wednesday no decision has been made yet as to what charges would be filed against "a known suspect" who was being held on unrelated charges. Kansas Attorney General Paul Morrison's office has agreed to assist in the case.
Morrison spokeswoman Ashley Anstaett said Wednesday it could be days before charges are filed.
In a news release issued Wednesday morning, Arkansas City police said the department was following up on information "that another individual and/or individuals may have also been involved in" Sanderholm's disappearance. The statement did not elaborate, and police refused to comment further.
Sanderholm's car was found at the bottom of the Cowley State Fishing Lake, and a woman's body was found about eight miles away. Divers spent Tuesday searching at the 84-acre lake on U.S. 166 about 15 miles east of downtown Arkansas City.
Alexis Swartzell, a former girlfriend of the man the dancers said had been following them, filed a petition for an order of protection Monday in Cowley County District Court, saying he had been stalking her and her 5-year-old daughter since Jan. 1.
"I cannot go anywhere alone. He always finds me," she wrote in the petition.
She alleged that he would sit outside the homes of family members for hours and would frequently send her electronic text messages.
Brianna Branine, a member of the Cowley College dance team, said team members were hard-hit by news that a body was found.
Branine said other dancers had been stalked, but she wasn't one of them.
Nearly 200 people gathered Tuesday night outside the Ark City Dance studio for a prayer vigil.
"The hope that Jodi is safe has grown quite dim," said the Rev. Mark Boxman, pastor at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Arkansas City.
Police said Sanderholm's family did not want to speak to the media.