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Local

Keller's disappearance now a homicide investigation

View excerpts from Tuesday's news conference about the investigation into Toni Keller's disapperanceHow developments have unfolded in the case of missing Northern Illinois University student Antinette "Toni" Keller

5:25 p.m. UPDATE

DeKALB – Mary Tarling, a cousin of Toni Keller, said the family is distressed by the reclassification of the case as a homicide investigation but hopes to find answers as it continues.

"Obviously, we are immensely sad," she said. "It's very upsetting. We still are pushing forward to find some answers, just so we have some understanding."

Tarling said the family is trying to be patient while awaiting information from police. Information has been shared with them before it is released to the media, she said.

"We obviously get more anxious as time goes on. We're trying to be patient, but we can't get answers fast enough," she said. "We just don't know. We're presuming that's because there is nothing to tell us."

NIU President John Peters issued a statement Tuesday saying he was "deeply saddened by today’s news from the DeKalb County Major Case Squad reclassifying Toni Keller’s disappearance as a homicide investigation. Many in our community are experiencing fear, anger and outrage toward this horrific crime. I share in all of these emotions as well. My heart goes out to the Keller family."

In the statement, Peters assured parents, students, faculty, staff and the DeKalb community that "our attention always has been and will continue to stay focused on campus safety. As president of Northern Illinois University, and most importantly as a parent, I can assure you that the safety of students and our community remains our top priority."

He noted that NIU has increased police presence and patrol operations throughout the community, established an information hot line, extended its late-night ride service and is providing security escorts for NIU students, faculty, staff and visitors on a 24-hour basis.

Peters also asked parents of students to keep in close contact with their children and to ask them to take advantage of NIU’s security services.

••••

12:55 p.m. UPDATE
DeKALB – Police have announced the death of Northern Illinois University freshman Antinette Keller is now being investigated as a homicide.



DeKalb Police Chief Bill Feithen, speaking for the DeKalb County Major Case Squad, addressed the media at DeKalb city hall Tuesday morning. Feithen had announced at a similar briefing Saturday that human remains were found in Prairie Park, a wooded area Keller had told friends she planned to visit before her disappearance Oct. 14.

On Tuesday, Feithen said the remains have yet to be positively identified as Keller, but items consistent with things she was carrying or wearing when she was last seen have been found in the immediate vicinity.

The remains have been burned to the point an autopsy is not viable, Feithen said. Forensic experts continue to analyze the remains.



Feithen said the remains were found Oct. 16, the day after Keller was reported missing. Forensic experts examined the remains and identified them as human the following Saturday, Feithen said. The family was notified at that time, and the public was notified that night.

The information about the remains was not immediately shared with Keller's family or the public, Feithen said, in case they turned out to not be human. Feithen said he couldn't do that to the family without knowing for sure.

The Illinois State Police and the FBI are assisting the DeKalb County Major Case Squad in the investigation, Feithen said. Another search of Prairie Park, where the remains were found, is scheduled for today, he said.

Feithen said police have interviewed at least 50 people and continue to follow up on leads as they come in. There are no persons of interest in custody, he said. Police have "no indication that this is anything other than an isolated incident," he added.


Feithen asked that anyone with information about what might have happened to Keller contact police. In particular, police are looking for anyone who noticed anything unusual, including fires, in Prairie Park around the time Keller disappeared.



The park has been closed to the public while the investigation continues, and the DeKalb Park District is working with police to evaluate the safety of the park, Feithen said. He also asked the community to take precautions for their own safety. He urged the public not to enter secluded areas alone, to be attentive to their surroundings, to report suspicious people, vehicles or activities to police and to lock their doors.



NIU has stepped up security on campus, said Kathy Buettner, vice president of university relations. She emphasized that the campus is not on lockdown, but access to residence halls is being restricted to students who live in them. The university's late night ride service has extended its hours for faculty, staff and students to 4 p.m. until 8 a.m. dialy, and security escorts are also available for those who live or work on campus, she said.



The university has also set up an information hotline, where operators will attempt to answer questions about the case, she said. That number is 815-753-4648.

Feithen and DeKalb County State's Attorney John Farrell stressed that police cannot release every detail because it could compromise any potential future prosecution.

"We understand that the public wants answers," Farrell said, but noted that "if and when a criminal prosecution happens" they want it to be solid.



"We are searching everything. We have to investigate it methodically. Those in investigation are doing an extremely professional job," Farrell said.

Anyone with information about the Keller case is asked to call police at 815-748-8407.

••••

12:30 p.m. UPDATE:
DeKALB – Police have announced the death of Northern Illinois University freshman Antinette Keller is now being investigated as a homicide.

DeKalb Police Chief Bill Feithen, speaking for the DeKalb County Major Case Squad, addressed the media at DeKalb city hall Tuesday morning. Feithen had announced at a similar briefing Saturday that human remains were found in Prairie Park, a wooded area Keller had told friends she planned to visit before her disappearance Oct. 14.

On Tuesday, Feithen said the remains have yet to be positively identified as Keller, but items consistent with things she was carrying or wearing when she was last seen have been found in the immediate vicinity.



The remains have been burned to the point an autopsy is not viable, Feithen said. Forensic experts continue to analyze the remains.



Feithen said the remains were found Oct. 16, the day after Keller was reported missing. Forensic experts examined the remains and identified them as human the following Saturday, Feithen said. The family was notified at that time, and the public was notified that night.



Feithen asked that anyone with information about what might have happened to Keller contact police. In particular, police are looking for anyone who noticed anything unusual, including fires, in Prairie Park around the time Keller disappeared.



The park has been closed to the public while the investigation continues, and the DeKalb Park District is working with police to evaluate the safety of the park, Feithen said. He also asked the community to take precautions for their own safety. He urged the public not to enter secluded areas alone, to be attentive to their surroundings, to report suspicious people, vehicles or activities to police and to lock their doors.



NIU has stepped up security on campus, said Kathy Buettner, vice president of university relations. She emphasized that the campus is not on lockdown, but access to residence halls is being restricted to students who live in them. The university's late night ride service has extended its hours for faculty, staff and students to 4 p.m. until 8 a.m. daily, and security escorts are also available for those who live or work on campus, she said.



The university has also set up an information hotline, where operators will attempt to answer questions about the case, she said. That number is 815-753-4648.

***
12:10 p.m. UPDATE:

The investigation into missing NIU student Antinette "Toni" Keller has become a homicide investigation, DeKalb Police Chief Bill Feithen said Tuesday.

Feithen said the scope of the investigation changed after it was confirmed the remains found in Prairie Park were human remains. He said that the confiration came late Saturday night. Feithen also said the remains were burned so badly that an autopsy could not be conducted on them.

The Illinois State Police and the FBI were assisting the DeKalb County Major Case Squad in the investigation, Feithen said. Another search of Prairie Park, where the remains were found, is scheduled for today, he said.

Feithen said the remains were found Oct. 16, a day after Keller was reported missing and two days after she was last seen. It took a week for the remains to be positively identified as human.

***
11:55 a.m. UPDATE:

The investigation into missing NIU student Antinette "Toni" Keller has become a homicide investigation, DeKalb Police Chief Bill Feithen said Tuesday.

Feithen said the scope of the investigation changed after it was confirmed the remains found in Prairie Park were human remains. He said that the confiration came late Saturday night. Feithen also said the remains were burned so badly that an autopsy could not be conducted on them.

***
LIVE UPDATES:

You can get live updates from the news conference scheduled for 11 a.m. today at our Twitter or Facebook pages. We hope to have video from the news conference posted this afternoon.

***
DeKALB – Police announced no new developments Monday in the investigation into the disappearance of Northern Illinois University freshman Antinette “Toni” Keller, but DeKalb Police Chief Bill Feithen and John Farrell, DeKalb County state’s attorney, are scheduled to address the media at 11 a.m. today.



The briefing is to give an update on the investigation “into missing NIU student Toni Keller and the human remains found in Prairie Park in DeKalb,” according to the advisory sent to media outlets. Feithen and Farrell said the state’s 
attorney would be there to clarify why authorities are withholding some information in the investigation.



“We are not announcing an arrest in the case,” Feithen said. “John Farrell will be there to assist in clarifying why we are withholding some information.”



On Saturday, police reclassified the search for Keller as a death investigation. 

Feithen said unidentified human remains have been found on land in a dense area of Prairie Park, a 150-acre wooded area south of Lincoln Highway.



Police also found items consistent with what Keller was thought to be carrying when she was last seen at her NIU residence hall about noon Oct. 14, but police have declined to release much additional information about what they have found. Feithen said during a Friday afternoon news conference that Keller was believed to be carrying her camera and some sort of sketchbook or clipboard.



Keller was reported missing to NIU Police shortly after 6 p.m. Oct. 15.

On Sunday, Feithen said investigators don’t know when they will be able to positively identify the remains, but said he hopes to have more information to release soon. The office of DeKalb County Coroner Dennis Miller on Monday referred media calls to police.



Feithen asked the public to be patient, noting that publicly releasing information too soon could be detrimental to the investigation.

The remains were found early in the overall investigation, which began when Keller was reported missing, said Feithen, who has been designated as the sole spokesman for the DeKalb County Major Case Squad, which assumed lead of the investigation Thursday.



Feithen declined to say exactly which day the remains were found. Sgt. Alan Smith, the public information officer for NIU Police, said Oct. 18 that there was no evidence of foul play.



On Saturday, Feithen said investigators are working to pinpoint how long the remains have been in the woods, but said they had been in the location for “some time” and that they had been there for “a short time after her disappearance.”



Feithen has declined to comment on whether the remains had been concealed or if they were found intact. He would not say where in the park they were found.

Keller’s family was notified Friday that the remains had been found, Feithen said, the day before the information was released to the public. He said there was a “law enforcement purpose” behind the delay, and that the family was aware of and understood the reason.



Despite rumors tying Keller’s disappearance to the death of another NIU student earlier this month, DeKalb County Sheriff Roger Scott said police remain certain there is no connection. That student’s death was ruled a suicide, and police are sure that is the case, Scott said.



The student’s body was discovered near the intersection of First Street and Fairview Drive, south of DeKalb, in the county’s jurisdiction.

Authorities have asked the public to contact police if they noticed any suspicious activity near Prairie Park around the time of Keller’s disappearance.



After the search shifted to a death investigation, NIU heightened security on campus, allowing only residents of campus dormitories access to the dorms and encouraging students to travel in groups of three or more.



Protest canceled



NIU student Sara Pezel, who said she lives in the same residence hall as Keller, said she canceled a student protest scheduled for Monday night. The protest was intended to demand information from NIU Police, which led the investigation into Keller’s disappearance until it was turned over to the major case squad.

“

I want to know the truth. I want to know what really happened,” Pezel said, saying police did not act quickly enough to share information about Keller’s disappearance and that they have not released enough details of their investigation.



“Everyone knew where she was going, what part of the park she was going to,” Pezel said. “Why didn’t they search that sooner? If they did search it sooner, why weren’t we told about it?”



Pezel announced Monday’s canceled protest through a message on the social-networking site Facebook. She said she canceled the event because students told her they received e-mails from the university telling them not to attend. Pezel said she personally did not receive one of the e-mails.



NIU spokesman Brad Hoey said the university’s student affairs office, which has been working with Keller’s family, asked the administrator of the Missing Antinette Keller Facebook page to take the message down because the event did not have the family’s approval. He said no one in the NIU administration had e-mailed students about the event.



Hoey said last week that the university followed protocol established by the Clery Act, a federal law that requires higher education institutions that get federal financial aid to disclose information about crime on and near campuses, as they began the search more than a week ago once Keller was reported missing.



The Clery Act requires a university, within 24 hours of being notified of a missing person, to issue an alert about the situation, Hoey said. After receiving the report Friday night, NIU Police immediately began interviewing Keller’s family and friends and searching places she might have gone. They also issued a nationwide all-points bulletin.

Police then launched a three-day search of her residence hall, campus, areas she frequents, and a wooded area near Prairie Park where she told friends she was headed, Hoey said. An alert was placed on the NIU website at 2:48 p.m. Oct. 16.

Tip line information
• The DeKalb County Major Case Squad is asking anyone who might have seen suspicious activity or people in Prairie Park on or about the date and time of Keller’s disappearance to call 815-748-8407.



Gathering planned for tonight



• Northern Illinois University will host a community gathering in honor of Keller at 6 p.m. in the Duke Ellington Ballroom of the Holmes Student Center, located at the corner of Normal Road and Lucinda Avenue in DeKalb. 

People are invited to begin assembling at 5:30 p.m. Live video of the event will be streamed at today.niu.edu.

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