Police Say Missing NIU Student Slain, Body Burned

Updated: 10/26/10 4:47 p.m.

DEKALB, Ill. (CBS) — DeKalb Police said Tuesday that they believe missing Northern Illinois University student Antinette “Toni” Keller was murdered and her body burned in a park near the school’s campus.

At a news conference Tuesday, DeKalb Police Chief Bill Feithen said for the first time that human remains found in Prairie Park are believed to be Keller’s and that they had been set on fire.

Feithen also said that items they believe were Keller’s were found near the body, leading them to believe the body is Keller’s; but police are waiting forensic analysis to confirm the victim’s identity.

Police have declared the case a “homicide investigation” but have not said how they believe Keller died. Feithen said that the body was too badly burned to conduct an autopsy.

“Due to the state of the burned remains, an autopsy is not viable,” he said, adding that making a positive identification would “take some time.”

LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s John Cody Reports

Keller went missing Oct. 14 after telling friends she was going for a walk near West Lincoln Highway by the Junction Center retail complex near the Northern Illinois University campus.

She was a 2010 graduate of Neuqua Valley High School, and was majoring in art at NIU. Keller was active in art and music while she was in high school, Neuqua Valley Principal Bob McBride said.

Authorities have been criticized for disclosing few details about the case since Keller disappeared on Oct. 14, including the fact that the remains were found several days before police announced that information.

Feithen confirmed the remains were actually found Oct. 16: two days after her disappearance and a week before police told Keller’s family or the public.

Feithen acknowledged Tuesday that police waited until Saturday, when the remains were confirmed to be human remains, to announce that the remains had been found at Prairie Park several days before.

“We found the remains early in the investigation,” Feithen said.

Feithen defended the decision to withhold that information from Keller’s family and the public until Saturday. “Had we indicated to the family or to the public that those were human remains or possibly human remains and they turned out to be animal remains … you know, we couldn’t do that.”

But some NIU students say waiting was the wrong decision.

“We were walking around a whole week without knowing there was a murderer,” said a female student.

In an apparent attempt to quell fears that there is a killer on the loose near NIU who might strike again, Feithen said, “Law enforcement has no indication that this is anything other than an isolated incident.”

“Homicides happen and they happen everywhere,” Feithen added. “There could be a homicide in the suburbs tonight.”

Feithen also seemed to be upset at the suggestion that authorities seemed to be trying to avoid saying that a killer is still on the loose.

“Is that not obvious? That … we have human remains, that we have a homicide investigation. We have not announced an arrest. Somewhere there is someone who did this,” “Yes, I’m outraged. You have not walked in my shoes for this last week and a half,” Feithen said.

“I think this community expects their emergency personnel and the people that are responsible for their safety to stay calm, evaluative and focused on the investigation instead of expressing their outrage,” Feithen added. “I have a daughter, I have a son. I have family in this community; I have policemen, families that live all around that park. I had a family member that walked through that park days before. You want outrage? There’s outrage.”

Police have interviewed 50 people during the course of the investigation, but Feithen said that there is “no person of interest in custody at this point.”

School officials have stepped up security on the campus since Keller’s disappearance and restricted access to residence halls. The university is also offering free door-to-door rides to students every day from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m. and is offering security escorts to students, faculty and staff 24 hours a day on campus.

Chicago NIU junior Belisa Richmond got one of those rides. She told CBS 2’s Mike Parker she has stopped walking alone on campus.

“Now I’m taking advantage of using the escorts, as well as the late night services, and they also extended their hours from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m.,” Richmond said, adding that she was “very much” looking over her shoulder frequently.

Keller’s cousin, Mary Tarling, says her family was surprised to learn the remains were discovered so early on.

Police have no suspects, or anyone in custody right now. They’re also asking the public to refrain from using Prairie Park for now.

CBS 2’s Dana Kozlov and Mike Parker contributed to this report.

More from John Cody
  • Jean SmilingCoyote

    The story says the body was burned in the park where it was found. Where’s the public call for possible witnesses to either flames or the distinctive smell of sulfur-containing proteins, which is different from the regular trash in someone’s rural “burn barrel” or the cellulose from a wood fire?

    • Nancy

      Perhaps the poor, young woman was burned elsewhere, then dumped back where she was abducted. This may explain no flames or smoke. Such an outrageous and horrid development. The killer is a sick animal. I always wonder how such a person can wake up afterwards and just spend another day….I hope they find him. Don’t know that it wasn’t a woman who did it, but I doubt it. Women don’t usually commit such vile crimes.

  • tim

    Time to start turning over every and any rock and crwlspace in search of the magott/ s who did this. Then I think it should be done to them as well. Its the only right thing to do at this point.

  • tom

    What is the deal with non-students living in residence hall. Based on the Dean Richards radio program yesterday it sounds like there are a lot of people who do not belong on campus

  • Street Cop.

    I believe she knew her killer unless it was a drifter,usually people who kill and burn the body do it to destroy evedience.

  • Special Forcesl

    Remember she told her friends were she was going,thats opportunity,or something personal .

  • sharronn

    You mean to tell me that you can burn people now and no one will notice the smell or flames. Somebody is lying, and they don’t need to do that to this family or the girl. Where is the justice in this. Something is very fishy going on,

  • jstcnw

    I hope the expensive camera she had with her is missing and that the killer can be found selling it. My condolences to the family and friends.

  • Katie

    From my family to all the friends and family. Our thoughts and prayers are with you all. May God guide you this through this Horrible Tragedy. Give them strength to move forward in life. She will never be forgotten by anyone, including my family.

    May God be with you always.

  • cycles13

    Is this why the Sheriff stated he did not anyone searching for her? Because he knew they found her but did not disclose this information.

    • Proud Huskie

      The police found burned remains early on in the search and investigation, but they could not identify the remains as human. When that fact was verified through forensic testing, the investigation went from a missing person to a death investigation. That happened on Saturday. If the police had shared that remains had been found and then we found out later that those remains were of an animal, people would be saying the police were dumb. What should they have done? As a person living on campus at NIU and working here, I would like to thank each and every officer who has worked on this case.

  • cycles13

    This sheriff is a joke.

  • Jim Brass

    Most of these commenters –Proud Huskie being a refreshingly noteworthy exception– are absolute imbeciles who should be denied access to the Internet of a participatory kind on a permanent basis.

    Big clue: The longer that police authorities can keep the perpetrator of a criminal act unaware of the extent of their own knowledge about the crime, the better –so long as the public isn’t being endangered by being kept in the dark (and, since this killing isn’t one of an ongoing rash of homicides in DeKalb County, it’s fair to say that the DeKalb Police Department passed that test with flying colors; if it had been more along the lines of the case of the D.C. sniper, well, then they’d’ve had to show their cards and in fact would have done just that).

    A balance has to be struck, and it can be tricky, but the DeKalb Police Department handled this one just fine. The gravest harm that came to the public from the delayed disclosure was a few days’ worth of acute worry and, I suppose, a bunch of paper used to print up “missing” flyers, and nobody ever died of either –indeed, a good many folks wised up and started to take the kinds of precautions that ought to be routine anyway but are so often neglected (traveling in groups when possible, apprising others of present and intended whereabouts, keeping a charged mobile communications device in hand at all times, and so forth).

    Meanwhile, it is safe to presume that while the public (and the perpetrator) was kept in the dark with respect to what the police knew, the police had the crime scene under quarantine and, had the perpetrator returned to the scene, the cops would have pounced. It’s been known to happen.

    So please do think a little bit before shooting your mouth off. The identification of a perpetrator and his or her prosecution and conviction in a court of law is what matters here –not the public’s “right” to be told, in what some would deem a timely manner, that indeed a murder was committed, a body has been found and in a particular condition, and how and that an unidentified perpetrator remains at large.

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