MOUNT VERNON, Ohio – A coroner is expected to provide more details Saturday about the deaths of two central Ohio women and an 11-year-old boy whose remains were found in trash bags hidden in a hollow tree following a weeklong search.
Authorities found the bodies of Tina Herrmann, her son Kody Maynard and her friend Stephanie Sprang in a wildlife preserve Thursday. The hollowed tree was cut down, both out of respect for the family and so it wouldn't become "a sightseeing thing," a wildlife official said.
The discovery of the bodies came more than a week after the first indications that something had gone wrong: Herrmann twice failed to report for shifts at the Dairy Queen, which was "totally out of character for her," said a manager, Valerie Haythorn.
On the second day, Haythorn went to check on Herrmann. At Herrmann's home, Haythorn said, she climbed in the back window because the front door was locked. Once inside, she discovered a significant amount of blood.
"It was enough blood there that I knew there was a problem," she told The Associated Press on Friday. "Nobody cut their finger in that house."
Haythorn immediately called authorities. The search for four missing people began in earnest after her Nov. 11 visit.
Three days later, Herrmann's 13-year-old daughter, Sarah Maynard, was found bound and gagged in the basement of a home.
Matthew Hoffman, an unemployed tree-trimmer, is accused of kidnapping the girl and keeping her for nearly four days in the basement of his home in Mount Vernon, about 10 miles west of Howard.
Hoffman gave information that led investigators to the bodies of the others, Knox County Sheriff David Barber said, and is the only suspect in the killings. His attorney has declined to comment.
All three were killed in Herrmann's home in Howard, about 40 miles northeast of Columbus, Barber said, though he did not say how.
It's not clear how someone managed to put the bodies inside the tree. Gary Ludwig, a supervisor with Ohio's Division of Wildlife, described it as an American beech, about 60 feet tall. Beech tree trunks are typically hollowed out, he said.
Authorities have not said why the four were targeted. The sheriff has suggested that Hoffman, who spent six years in a Colorado prison on arson and other charges, had been watching them for some time.
In Mount Vernon, where just about everyone has some small connection to the killings, the grieving process has begun.
Sprang's son Michael Kupiec told WBNS-TV that he has no hatred and is eagerly waiting for investigators to tell his family about what happened to his mother.
"Until we find out more, on if they knew him — if he knew them, we don't really know anything," Kupiec said.
At the Dairy Queen, Herrmann's friends are trying to help in the only way they know how — by selling Blizzards. On Saturday, $1 from each Blizzard sold will be donated to a fund for Sarah Maynard and Sprang's children. The restaurant is accepting donations for the children and is working with the mayor to open bank accounts for them.
"There's some peace in knowing they are not suffering, because that was a major concern," Haythorn said. "We're very glad that that part has ended. But devastated over the fact that they will never be back."
Associated Press writers Andrew Welsh-Huggins and Ann Sanner in Columbus contributed to this report.