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Body found in North Dakota is missing Montana teacher, FBI confirms

missing teacher Sherry Arnold

FILE: This flier shows missing teacher Sherry Arnold.AP

A body found buried in North Dakota was identified Thursday as a Montana high school teacher who was abducted while jogging more than two months ago, the FBI said.

The remains of 43-year-old Sherry Arnold were recovered Wednesday near Williston, N.D., about 50 miles northeast of Sidney, the Montana town where she worked.

Family members and those who knew Arnold have been anxious for her body to be found to bring the case to some resolution.

Arnold's sister, Rhonda Whited-Rupp, said the family was being comforted and supported by friends and others in Sidney who were affected by the loss of a popular teacher and well-known member of the community.

"That's the only thing that gets anybody through. We're all in this together," Whited-Rupp said. "We just kind of hang on to one another and keep praying."

Suspects Michael Spell, 22, and Lester Van Waters Jr., 48, have pleaded not guilty to aggravated kidnapping in the case and await trial.

The FBI declined to disclose details on where the body was found or what led them to the site. Authorities previously said one of the suspects tried to lead FBI agents to the site in past weeks but failed.

Confirmation that the remains found Wednesday were those of Arnold came after the body was taken to the Montana State Crime Lab in Missoula. An autopsy was planned.

There was no immediate word on when the body would be returned to Arnold's family. A date for funeral services will be set after that happens, Whited said.

The discovery of the remains across state lines from the scene of the kidnapping means federal charges could be filed against Spell and Waters.

Authorities said that decision will be made by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Montana. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Fehr said Thursday the office had no immediate comment on the potential for federal involvement or whether additional charges will be filed.

The disappearance of Arnold launched a massive search that turned up only a single running shoe that she had been wearing the day she was last seen.

Arnold grew up on a ranch outside Sidney, a city of 5,000 near the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers that's been drastically changed by a recent oil boom.

She was well-known in the community and popular among her students and their parents. Arnold was married to a fellow Sidney Public Schools employee, Gary, and together they raised five children from prior marriages. Arnold's son and daughter are students at Sidney High School.

The state charges against Spell and Waters can carry a potential death penalty if a victim is not released unharmed. A similar federal charge could also carry a death penalty upon conviction.

Court documents filed by the prosecutor in the case indicate Spell acknowledged his role in what an affidavit described as the crack-fueled abduction and killing of Arnold.

Spell told investigators he pulled her into a car and Waters choked her to death by before they buried her in a shallow grave on a farmstead near Williston.

Farmers and other property owners were alerted by the FBI to be on the lookout for stirred up plots of ground or grass that might conceal a grave.

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