Details were slow to emerge in the homicide of a Baptist missionary and mother of three found dead in her Far North Peoria home, leaving neighbors wondering what actually happened in the usually quiet neighborhood.
Denise Leuthold, 39, was found dead at 700 W. Mossville Road on Thursday afternoon after police arrived to investigate a possible break-in. Police have made no arrests in the investigation.
The victim was living at the home belonging to her parents with her husband and three children. The victimâ€™s family was recently living in Lithuania and returned to the Peoria area in recent months, Crossroads Baptist Church Pastor Justyn Smith said.
The victimâ€™s husband, Nathan Leuthold, delivered a sermon at Crossroads in October 2012 during revival month.
Nathan Leuthold made the call to police shortly after 3:30 p.m. Thursday. When officers arrived, they found Denise Leutholdâ€™s body just inside the front door, Peoria County Coroner Johnna Ingersoll said. A Friday morning autopsy confirmed she died of a single gunshot wound to the head.
â€œIf itâ€™s really a burglary went wrong and a 39-year-old woman lost her life, thatâ€™s cause for concern, and police need to make that clear,â€ said one resident of the area, who wished to remain anonymous.
The neighbor said exterior lights were on at nearly every house in the area throughout the night.
Police Chief Steve Settingsgaard on Thursday cautioned neighbors to lock doors and windows and keep an eye out for suspicious activity.
Another neighbor said she heard the sirens Thursday afternoon, and about half an hour later the news of the death began to circulate.
â€œWe didnâ€™t hear it through the police. It was just going out through the neighbors,â€ said the resident, who did not want her name used. â€œI guess everybody is interested to see what happened, to find out the details.â€
While the neighbor said her family went about their day as normal Friday, they would be waiting to learn more about the circumstances surrounding the crime.
â€œI would say some people are a little bit shaken, alarms are on and they are a little bit more cautious,â€ the neighbor said. â€œIâ€™d be silly to say Iâ€™m not a little worried and curious because I am.â€
District 323 administrators placed a â€œsoft lockdownâ€ on all schools Friday as a precaution with a killer potentially in the area.
The soft lockdown includes locking exterior doors of all schools, prohibiting outside recess and closing classroom doors throughout the day as added safety measures, Superintendent Jay Marino said.
â€œThatâ€™s just a basic cautionary measure so we can control any visitors to the school and just try to reduce any anxieties that parents have, or staff, about safety,â€ Marino said. â€œWe did not receive any indication of a threat. This is just precautionary.â€
Parents were notified of the soft lockdown by the districtâ€™s Alert Now program, which delivers emails, text messages and phone calls.
â€œWe have students who have a cellphone and send a text message to parents saying weâ€™re on lockdown,â€ Marino said. â€œ(This way) parents are getting firsthand information from the school district, rather than second- or third-hand rumors.â€
A Peoria County sheriffâ€™s deputy is assigned to the district full time, Marino said.
District officials will reassess any possible threat to the area over the weekend before terminating or continuing the lockdown into next week.