SHEFFIELD, Vt. – Hunters discovered a body in the woods about 10 miles from where a 78-year-old woman was kidnapped from her home in a tiny Vermont town three weeks ago, and authorities feared the worst.
A final identification won't be made until after an autopsy, but the remains are believed to be that of a female with the same build as Pat O'Hagan, police said Monday.
The bird hunters found the body Sunday in Wheelock, about 10 miles from O'Hagan's home in Sheffield, police said. Police suspect the person was the victim of foul play.
The news chilled many people in this town where few people even locked their doors until O'Hagan's disappearance.
"It's very scary," said Marion Newland, 48, a school cook. "I don't think I'm going walk anymore to school."
O'Hagan was reported missing Sept. 11 after a friend arrived to pick her up for a meeting and she wasn't there. O'Hagan, a widow who camped, kayaked and lived alone, was a pillar of the community and by all accounts mentally alert.
Police haven't said what led them to believe she was abducted or mentioned a possible motive. But authorities have said there was no reason to believe that O'Hagan, a grandmother of nine, just wandered off.
Since her disappearance, searchers have combed cornfields, barns, abandoned buildings and a quarry in the dairy farming community, which held a vigil and prayer service for her safe return.
O'Hagan and her husband moved to northern Vermont from Chelmsford, Mass., about 15 years ago and renovated a deteriorating white clapboard house before he died in 2001.
Money appeared to be an unlikely motive for an abduction. Her family has described her as prudent and frugal.
"We're still looking for any information, any information that people might have that they think would be relevant to this investigation," State Police Maj. Ed Ledo said at a news conference in St. Johnsbury. "We want them to come forward."
Police were at O'Hagan's home Monday afternoon. Troopers said the family did not wish to make a statement.
The body was found several hundred feet into the woods off an unpaved road used by snowmobilers and other off-roaders.
Despite the uncertainty about the identification, nearby residents said they were grateful O'Hagan's disappearance might have been solved and hoped a perpetrator would be found.
"I'm glad they did find something. It gives you a little closure," said Clinton Hudson, 60, of Wheelock. "I just know how I'd feel if my mother was missing."