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Authorities urge vigilance after discovery of missing Vermont mother's body

Vermont State Police say an autopsy has confirmed that a body found off a back road is that of Melissa Jenkins who disappeared while her son was left unharmed in her idling car.

Authorities said Tuesday that the death of 33-year-old Melissa Jenkins has been ruled a homicide, but have yet to release the cause of death.

Jenkins' body was found Monday in Barnet, Vt., a day after her SUV was discovered abandoned along a road with its engine still running and her 2-year-old son inside, investigators said.

Police are now warning residents of surrounding towns, including St. Johnsbury, where Jenkins worked as a teacher, to be cautious as investigators search for the killer or killers. 

"The public should be vigilant until we are able to locate the suspect or suspects involved," Vermont State Police Lt. Michael Henry told FoxNews.com. 

A family friend is caring for Jenkins' 2-year-old son, who was found unharmed in the vehicle. The boy's father, B.J. Robertson, would not comment on Jenkins' disappearance. Police said the woman had no restraining orders out on anyone. 

Jenkins, a single mother, taught science at the prestigious St. Johnsbury Academy, a school of about 970 students that was established in the 1840s and whose alumni include former President Calvin Coolidge.

Jenkins' 2006 silver Suzuki was found at 11:30 p.m. Sunday along Goss Hollow Road in St. Johnsbury, not far from the woman's home, Vermont State Police Lt. Bob Cushing told FoxNews.com. 

Cushing confirmed to FoxNews.com that authorities found suspicious evidence, suggesting a struggle took place, but he declined to elaborate on what was discovered. He noted that the vehicle was not out of gas.

Jenkins was a girls freshman basketball coach and a dorm proctor until she had her son. She graduated from Lyndon State College with a degree in natural science and geology. She was working on her master's degree, St. Johnsbury Academy headmaster Tom Lovett said.

"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."

A shrine to Jenkins was set up in the entry to a main building at the academy. Between 100 and 200 students gathered at the academy Monday night after the news came out that a body had been found. Classes were canceled Tuesday.

"They have a range of emotions, just like me," Lovett said Tuesday of his students. "I'm done with the numbness and I'm done with the confusion; there's a lot of sadness and a lot of anger starting to arise."

St. Johnsbury Academy also serves as a public school for the town, of about 6,200, nearly 40 miles south of the Canadian border.

Jenkins was a waitress at night at The Creamery Restaurant in Danville, the eatery where co-workers, friends and the father of Jenkins' son gathered Monday afternoon along with others who were curious or concerned.

"We all know her. It's a tough thing right now," said Marion Cairns, the owner, who described Jenkins as bright, pretty, a good mother and fun to be around. "She'd cut her arms off before she'd let anybody touch that boy. I mean, that boy meant everything to her."

Eric Berry, 44, of Lyndonville, a cousin by marriage whose daughter is Jenkins' goddaughter, described her as a beautiful, kind person whom he believes was coming to someone's aid when she disappeared.

"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 any investigation," he said.

The academy will provide counseling to grieving students, Lovett said.

The disappearance recalled that of 20-year-old Krista Dittmeyer of Portland, Maine, whose car was found idling with its hazard lights on, her 14-month-old daughter unharmed, a year ago about 50 miles away in New Hampshire. Dittmeyer's body was found in a pond. Three men were arrested on charges in her robbery and killing.

Authorities said Monday there is no indication the cases are related.

FoxNews.com's Cristina Corbin and the Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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