Authorities in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, are searching for answers after one young woman was found dead and another went missing last weekend.
Katelin Michelle Akens, 19, was last seen on Saturday after her stepfather dropped her off near a commuter rail station on her way to the airport. She was due to fly back to Arizona, where she’d been accepted to beauty school. But she never even made it to her flight.
On Sunday, 21-year-old Heather Ciccone was found dead in a car parked in a stranger’s driveway. She’d been shot in the back of the head. Her death has officially been ruled a homicide, according to the medical examiner.
Captain Jeff Pearce of the Spotsylvania County Sheriff’s Office tells PEOPLE there’s no connection between the two cases, emphasizing, “It’s just an unfortunate coincidence.” But the dual mysteries have left the community shaken, particularly after Akens’ luggage was found in a drainage ditch near Fredericksburg on Monday.
Pearce tells PEOPLE that the discovery of the luggage doesn’t necessarily indicate foul play in the teen’s disappearance. “The contents of luggage gave us some leads that we’re following actively as we speak,” he says, adding that it didn’t show any signs of being tampered with. He would not elaborate on the specific nature of those contents, citing an open investigation, but he did say that it gave him hope Akens would be found alive.
“We’re hoping – and this has happened before – that she simply decided that she wasn’t going to go back [to Arizona] and made other arrangements,” Pearce says. “Information recovered from her social media accounts and her cellphone records shows that [that may be case].”
He adds: “But until we can locate her, this is a missing persons case. We’re not giving up.”
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Ciccone’s death is more perplexing. “We don’t have an easy suspect to go to,” Pearce says. But rumors abound: Ciccone’s mother, Stacy, told Dateline that her daughter was being stalked by another girl. Other have said that she was receiving death threats.
Pearce says that investigators have spoken to the girl in question. “That person has been interviewed at length and has been extremely cooperative,” he says, adding that the young women’s dispute stemmed from a fight over a boyfriend. “At this point, she is not a person of interest.”
But there are plenty of clues. “Fortunately there’s a lot of leads,” says Pearce. “Unfortunately there’s lots of ground to cover Right now, we’re keeping a lot of evidence close to our vest and we’ll keep investigating [until we find out who did this].”