Missing Montana math teacher is dead, school officials

Reuters News

1/14/2012 11:23:57 PM - Reuters News

By Laura Zuckerman

(Reuters) - A Montana high school math teacher who vanished last weekend while on her morning jog is dead, and a man has been taken into custody in connection with her disappearance, authorities said on Friday.

Sherry Arnold, 43, was last seen setting off for a run on Saturday in her hometown of Sidney, a fast-growing agricultural community in northeastern Montana. Her husband, Gary Arnold, later reported her missing, police said.

Sidney Public Schools Superintendant Dan Farr said law enforcement authorities had informed family members and district officials of Arnold's death, but declined to elaborate.

Sidney Police Chief Frank DiFonzo said in a prepared statement that authorities had taken one man into custody and were seeking information from another in connection with Arnold's disappearance.

A 47-year-old man has been jailed in neighboring Williston, North Dakota, and a 22-year-old man is being held for questioning in Rapid City, South Dakota.

"Because this investigation is rapidly moving forward, we are not able to provide any details of the case at this time," DiFonzo said in the statement.

He said a tip to a crime hotline led to the breakthrough in the investigation, which has blanketed the northern prairies of Montana and the Dakotas and drawn investigators from the three states and the FBI.

Sidney Mayor Bret Smelser said the crime had shattered the sense of security in the community of 5,000 people, where new homes were being built amid rapid growth brought on by a boom in oil and natural gas extraction through hydraulic fracturing.

"We never think it will happen in a small town. Now it has and we have to deal with it," he told Reuters.

Smelser said Arnold's disappearance and death has prompted a run on handguns and concealed weapons permits, especially among women, and caused some residents to view outsiders with mistrust.

Arnold, a math teacher at Sidney High School, vanished on Saturday after leaving her home wearing running clothes and mittens. One of her shoes was recovered during an initial search of the area.

A statement on the school district's website said counselors would be on hand following the news.

"She's a well-respected, well-liked teacher," Farr said. "She was the kind of teacher that every parent would want in front of their children. She would go the extra mile to help one of her students."

The school district dismissed students early from class on Friday afternoon and cancelled planned sports events.

Farr said counselors have been available to students and staff since Arnold vanished and that additional support would be offered in coming weeks.

Late Friday afternoon, Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer released a statement about Arnold, saying she would be remembered as "a wonderful daughter, mother, wife, teacher and a beloved member of the Sidney community."

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Greg McCune)

(This story corrects the headline and first paragraph to reflect officials saying the missing woman is dead rather than she has been found dead.)