Tests still being done to verify if they belong to Toni Keller; case has been reclassified as a homicide.
Remains found in a park south of the Northern Illinois University were burned so badly that it took forensic specialists a week to determine if they were human, and they still do not know if they belong to Antinette “Toni” Keller, DeKalb Police Chief Bill Feithen said today.
The case, however, has been reclassified as a homicide and police are operating under the assumption that the victim is Keller, the 18-year-old Plainfield girl who has been missing since Oct. 14.
In fact, the remains were found Oct. 16 but the information was not made public for more than a week — not even to Keller’s family — because police didn’t want to make a mistake should it be found they actually belonged to an animal, Feithan said, speaking at a morning press conference.
Out-of-state forensics experts were brought in to analyze the remains, and it may take several more days before a positive ID can be made, he said.
Feithen refused to disclose any information about the nature of the Prairie Park crime scene, other than to say that items believed to have belonged to Keller were found nearby. He declined to answer questions as to whether there was an accelerant involved or if burning was the cause of death.
All indications are, he said, that the homicide likely took place in the park.
He refused to speculate on whether the killer might have been someone known to Keller or someone committing a random act of violence.
“We are looking at all possibilities,” Feithen said. “This is a homicide. There is someone who committed this. … The sad truth is bad things can and do happen anywhere. Toni reminds us of this.”
More than 40 police officers from NIU, the cities of DeKalb and Sycamore, DeKalb County and the Illinois State Police are working on the case and are actively following all leads they receive, he said. There is currently no one in custody or being held for questioning; Feithen would not disclose if there are any “persons of interest.”
Feithen steadfastly refused to comment on whether the public should be afraid that there is a random killer who may strike again. He took umbrage at reporters who questioned his “lack of outrage” over the situation.
“I think the people of DeKalb expect me to stay calm, evaluative, focused on the evolution of the investigation, instead of expressing outrage,” Feithen said. “I have a daughter and I have a son. I have family in this community. I have a family member who was walking in that park just days before.”
Police are asking people to temporarily stop using Prairie Park, and park district police are stepping up bike and foot patrols of the area.
Kathy Buettner, NIU’s vice president for university relations, called the latest revalations in the case “very grim” and “devastating.” The school has stayed in close contact with the family, and has set up in-person and phone counseling options for students and faculty who need help dealing with the situation, she said.
Buettner emphasized that the NIU campus is not on lockdown, but there is now a service to provide rides between 4 p.m. and 8 a.m. and students are being urged to take precautions and travel in groups.
Tonight, the school will hold a 6 p.m. “community gathering” to honor Keller’s memory.
Anyone with information pertaining to the case is asked to call 815-748-8407, 815-753-8477 or 815-895-3272, which is the Crime Stoppers number. NIU’s information hot line is 815-753-4648. A 24-hour crisis hot line number is 866-BGC-0111.
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