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Nebraska Teacher From Politically Connected Family Found Frozen To Death Near Luxury SUV On Rural Road

Authorities recovered Amber Tjaden's body from a remote maintenance road near Unadilla, Nebraska on Feb. 5.

By Dorian Geiger

A missing Nebraska community college instructor was found frozen to death on the side of a rural road just over a week after she vanished.

Authorities recovered Amber Tjaden's body from a remote maintenance road near Unadilla, Nebraska on Feb. 5, Otoe County Sheriff’s Office said. The 48-year-old died of “cold exposure,” according to a preliminary autopsy report. Her SUV was found nearby. Foul play isn’t suspected in her death, authorities said.

“At this time, there does not appear to be any crime committed in Otoe County,” Sheriff Colin Caudill told Oxygen.com on Monday.

Tjaden was first reported missing on Jan. 27. On Friday, a passerby notified law enforcement after spotting her 2019 Jaguar F-Pace SUV parked on the shoulder of the road.

Matthew Tjaden, her husband, is believed to be the last person to have seen her alive. He didn’t immediately report his wife missing, authorities said. He was, however, arrested during an unrelated traffic stop after twice attempting to flee law enforcement with two children in his vehicle. The Nebraska father was taken into custody on suspicion of flight to avoid arrest and child neglect, officials said. He posted bail and was released last week. 

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Tjaden’s family is well-known within Nebraska’s political circles. They also confirmed the community college teacher’s death.

"This is something that you see in the movies, something that happens to somebody else, well it's happening to our family right now," her father, Jim Suttle, previously told Omaha television station KETV. "This is just really, really, it's just hard to put it into words the feelings that you have, but we have to go on."

Suttle, a business executive, engineer, and former city councilman served as Omaha’s 50th mayor from 2009 to 2013. Tjaden’s mother, Deb Suttle, is a retired state senator. 

“I will love you forever,” Savannah Suttle, Tjaden’s adult daughter, wrote on Facebook. “You lived for your kids, you were a fantastic mother. You did everything for us. You were my best friend.”

In 2015, Amber Tjaden filed two protective orders against her husband, Matthew Tjaden, according to court documents obtained by Oxygen.com. She accused her spouse of threatening to shoot her with a shotgun after becoming convinced she was being “unfaithful." 

“I wouldn’t just kill you,” she recalled him telling her. “I would take you out to the woods somewhere and torture you. Slowly. I’d bring toys. Have lots of fun.”

Matthew Tjaden also confronted his spouse about allegedly “falsifying” their marriage certificate and accused her of spying on his phone calls. He allegedly punched holes in the wall, smashed picture frames, and used binoculars to record the license plates of cars circling the couple’s home. Amber Tjaden suspected he was using drugs. 

The orders, however, were later dismissed by a judge. The couple has two young sons together, court records show. 

Matthew Tjaden has so far cooperated with investigators, officials said. Cass County Sheriff’s Office, which is also investigating Tjaden’s disappearance, confirmed on Monday he isn't a person of interest.

"At this point, they're not thinking the husband was involved, that she was alone," Lieutenant Jeffrey Lickei, of the Cass County Sheriff's Office, told Oxygen.com.

Amber Tjaden's full autopsy report, including toxicology results, is still pending. 

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The career educator taught struggling high school students at Nebraska’s largest community college in Omaha.

“Students and staff are deeply saddened by the loss of dear friend and valued colleague Amber Tjaden,” Metropolitan Community College said in a statement. 

School officials described her as a “lifetime” educator who was famously close with her students.

“She was really passionate about her job and she really had a grasp on what they were doing there at Gateway College,” Derek Rayment, a media relations manager for Metropolitan Community College, told Oxygen.com

Tjaden was hired by the school in 2016 and worked with the institution’s “Gateway to College'' program. Her pupils, who had become “disengaged from their high school setting,” were typically in their mid-to-late teens. 

“[The students] are really looking for help and are just looking for someone to really sit down with them and help them through things and Amber was that person,” he added.

Tjaden will also be remembered as a vital lifeline outside the classroom, too, some parents of former students also said.

“She did so, so much, and was an angel to those who needed help,” Joshua Scott told Oxygen.com.

Scott’s teenage son and daughter, Isaiah and Nicole Rodriquez, enrolled at Metropolitan Community College in 2017.

“She was always there to help them and push them to do their best,” he recalled. 

The family often depended on Tjaden to shuttle their children to and from the community college, Scott said. In 2018, his family fell on hard times and was unable to afford groceries. Tjaden gave them a $200 Walmart gift card, he said. The same year, Tjaden also awarded Scott’s children a used iPad for boosting their attendance.

“She helped when others did not,” Scott added.

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