Friends, family and community members continue to seek closure in the death investigation of Cheryl DeBoer, which authorities said could take months.
Mountlake Terrace police know the community wants answers on Cheryl DeBoer’s death.
Since the 53-year-old’s body was found in a culvert last month in a massive search that enlisted the help of hundreds of volunteers, concerns over safety in the area and speculation on the woman’s death have only grown.
“The emotional strings that are being pulled are creating a constant need for information,” Police Chief Greg Wilson said. “They [community members] automatically consider it’s an act of homicidal violence, but what we have to do is look at this without emotions. … We have to look at just the facts themselves.”
He said investigators have no evidence to suggest DeBoer died of homicidal violence. They are asking for patience as they continue to investigate her manner of death, he said.
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Thousands of people are part of a public Facebook page dedicated to “celebrating Cheryl DeBoer,” where commenters share their own theories on the investigation. Members of the police department, too, say they’ve fielded concerns from people scared for their safety since DeBoer went missing.
It could take investigators up to two or three months to compile all evidence, such as from cellphone records, to determine precisely what happened before DeBoer died, Wilson said.
“It’s difficult for all family and friends. They’re certainly struggling,” he said. “We’re not going to make any decisions, or close out this case, until we thoroughly and methodically do everything we can.”
DeBoer, an employee at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, was found dead from drowning and asphyxia. She was found with a fast-food plastic bag loosely over her head in the culvert about 1.5 miles from the Mountlake Terrace Park & Ride lot, according to police and medical investigators.
Wilson said the Washington State Patrol crime lab is doing a forensic analysis of the bag, which is from a restaurant he said DeBoer frequented.
The lab is also examining evidence from where her car was found, secured, near the intersection of 58th Avenue West and 234th Street Southwest. Commuters of the transit lot often park there.
“We have no eyewitnesses who report hearing an assault or abduction take place,” Wilson said. There was no evidence on her clothes or body of being attacked.
Investigators have matched a “small amount” of blood found in the car to DeBoer’s, he said, though they are still trying to trace a larger sample discovered on the vehicle’s passenger floor board that is from an animal.
DeBoer also had small cuts on her fingers that appeared to be self-inflicted, police said.
Forensic experts at the Everett Police Department are examining DeBoer’s computer records, Wilson said, going through her history to see if she researched methods of suicide, among other things, for instance.
Investigators have not recovered DeBoer’s cellphone. But the U.S. Marshal’s Office is examining cellphone records and trying to determine relevant locations based on pings from towers, he added.
Wilson said it appears the phone was powered off shortly after a text to her friend, whom she was supposed to meet at the transit center to carpool with to work, around 7 a.m. In the text, DeBoer indicated she had to return home for her employee ID badge, which investigators later found at her house after her disappearance.
Considering DeBoer’s pattern of behavior, which was to charge her cellphone every night, investigators believe the phone did not run out of battery and that she powered it off, he said. Investigators have found no evidence it was destroyed.
Attempts to reach DeBoer’s family for comment were unsuccessful.
On the Facebook page, one commenter, who identifies herself as DeBoer’s mother, Lenore Peterson, said the lack of evidence to suggest her daughter died of a homicide should not be a reason to “assume” she killed herself.
“It is inconceivable that Cheryl would take meat out of the freezer for dinner, text the driver of her carpool,” Peterson wrote, “walk 1.5 miles, crawl through brambles and mud, put a plastic bag over her head and lie face down in a cold shallow creek to end her life.”
Peterson went on to urge “someone out there” who knows something about her daughter’s death to contact Mountlake Terrace police.