Body found in DeKalb unable to be identified
By Dan Rozek Sun-Times Media October 26, 2010 11:42AM
DeKalb Police Chief Bill Feithen talks to the media during a press conference at the Dekalb Municipal Center on Tuesday, Oct. 26. He said the body found was too badly charred to confirm its identity. | Brian Powers~Staff Photographer
Updated: November 23, 2010 8:02AM
A body found in a DeKalb park was so badly burned that investigators are unable to determine if it is that of a Northern Illinois University student who went missing nearly two weeks ago, authorities said Tuesday.
Despite that uncertainty, DeKalb Police Chief Bill Feithen said the probe into the disappearance of 18-year-old Antinette “Toni” Keller has become a “homicide investigation” — largely because of items found near the remains.
“The remains were found in close proximity to items found that are consistent with personal items Toni owned,” Feithen said.
Officials reached out to the public for help in the investigation of what happened to the Plainfield teen, who vanished on Oct. 14 after telling friends she planned to go to a park south of NIU’s campus.
In a macabre twist to the intensive search, Feithen said the charred remains found by police on Oct. 16 in Prairie Park were too badly damaged for an autopsy to conclude if they are those of Keller.
Authorities now are consulting forensic experts to help them with the identification.
“Forensic experts have identified the remains as human. Whether these remains are Toni’s or not, could take some time’’ to determine, Feithen said.
Police, in fact, didn’t initially announce the discovery of the remains on Oct. 16 because it wasn’t clear if they were human or animal, he said.
Investigators waited a week — until this past Saturday — to disclose they had discovered the remains. Feithen said police held off saying anything until initial findings concluded the remains were human.
That delay, though, angered some of Keller’s friends, who spent much of that week handing out flyers and searching on their own for the missing teen. Police should have disclosed sooner that they had found remains in the park, even if they weren’t sure of their origin, they said.
“A bunch of us do feel like we were duped. We were puppets being used for their own advantage,” junior Jasmine Roberts said of police withholding the information.
Feithen wouldn’t speculate on what may have happened to the outgoing freshman art student.
“We are looking at all possibilities,” said Feithen, adding that police had “no indication that this is anything other than an isolated incident.”
Keller’s family has said they believe she is dead.
On Tuesday, classmates drew the same conclusion.
“Our friend isn’t coming back,” said Robinson, 21, who lived in the Neptune North dorm near Keller’s room.
She described Keller as a “ray of sunshine” who would want her friends to grieve but then get on with their lives.
“Toni would have wanted us to go on,” said Robinson, of Rockford.
Another friend said “it just seems impossible to think anything positive right now,” said Andrew Buchanan, 18, a freshman who also lives in Neptune North.
Police said they have made no arrests and had no “persons of interest” in custody.
But Feithen said a police task force with more than 40 investigators is working around the clock to try to solve the mystery.
“We’re working diligently to solve this crime so the community can feel safe,” he said.
NIU officials, meanwhile, have ordered increased campus police patrols and other security measures, including offering expanded bus service and 24-hour security escorts to students and faculty moving around the campus.
“We have tried to take prudent steps to address all these issues,” said NIU Vice President Kathy Buettner, who expressed optimism that police would find the killer.
“We have confidence in our law enforcement,” she said.
A school service to remember Keller was scheduled for Tuesday night at the Holmes Student Center on the NIU campus.
Some students who know the missing teen plan to attend, hoping it will help them better cope with their grief.
“It will help. It will let us feel this loss a little bit more,” said sophomore Matthew Schultz. “I think a lot of us are trying to block the feeling of what’s happening, and I think it will help us get over it a little bit more.” The university has set up an information hotline, where operators will attempt to answer questions about the case. That number is 815-753-4648. Parents and students who have questions are encouraged to contact the university’s information hotline.
DeKalb County Major Case Squad investigators are requesting the public to report any suspicious activity or persons in Prairie Park in DeKalb on or about the time and date of Keller’s disappearance to 815-748-8407.
Keller is a graduate of Neuqua Valley High School.