A Mississippi community is reeling after the arrest of a 29-year-old man on murder charges following the discovery last week of his 51-year-old mother’s decapitated body, PEOPLE confirms.
Before she was killed, Sherry Johnson worked as a guidance counselor in Hattiesburg, where she was beloved by students and staff, according to local reports.
On Wednesday, relatives contacted police, asking that they check on Sherry. Responding officers discovered Sherry’s headless body in her yard soon after arriving at her property, Stone County Sheriff’s Capt. Ray Boggs said at a press conference.
Her son, Terrelle Johnson, has been formally charged with first-degree murder, Boggs said.
He remains in police custody without bond.
It was unclear Tuesday if he had retained legal counsel who could comment on his behalf. PEOPLE was also unable to determine if he had entered a plea to the charge he faces.
• Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter.
Boggs said that Terrelle had told concerned relatives his mother was on a cruise with friend, but that relatives were unaware of any such trip.
Boggs said investigators are trying to determine if the killing was carried out by more than one person.
“I must have been to a hundred crime scenes in my career but never one like this,” Boggs said. “It was heinous.”
The Sun Herald reports that Sherry died from blunt force trauma and that her body exhibited evidence of numerous previous assaults.
According to the paper, her body was likely left in her back yard for days before it was found.
It was the scandal that rocked America’s most storied political family and changed the course of presidential history. PEOPLE‘s first-ever podcast, Cover-Up, dives into the Chappaquiddick scandal and attempts to piece together what happened in the hours after Ted Kennedy’s car went over a narrow wooden bridge, killing his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne. Subscribe now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play or wherever podcasts are available.
Investigators still do not know if she was killed inside her home or in the back yard.
The Sun Herald reports that Boggs said he was close to the Johnsons, and that he even mentored Terrelle years ago.
Boggs said Sherry was “a really good lady. A really good mother, and really loved her family.”
He added that “the family is still in disbelief. So are many people around the area who knew Sherry are in disbelief.”