A Mennonite woman who vanished from her secluded community in New Mexico more than a month ago was found dead hundreds of miles away in an Arizona desert on Monday evening.
A body found at the site of a national park near Flagstaff, Arizona on Feb. 24 was identified as Sasha Krause, a missing New Mexico Sunday school teacher who vanished in January, authorities there said.
Investigators identified Krause by using the woman’s fingerprints, which they matched to a database entry of a Texas driver’s license in her name. An autopsy later confirmed the woman’s identity, according to the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office.
However, detectives are puzzled as to how Krause’s body wound up so close to the Sunset Crater National Monument near Flagstaff —nearly 300 miles away from the settlement in Farmington, New Mexico where she was last seen. As of Thursday, law enforcement said there were no suspects in the case or any indication of a motive in Krause’s slaying.
“Our investigation now transitions to a criminal investigation,” Sheriff Shane Ferrari said in a statement posted to Facebook. “We are fully committed in capturing this individual and bringing peace to the Krause family.”
San Juan authorities indicated they are partnering with the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office in Flagstaff as the investigation moves ahead.
“It’s devastating,” Jayme Harcrow, a public information officer for the San Juan Sheriff’s Office, told Oxygen.com. “Nobody wants to see a young woman from our community to be kidnapped and taken across state lines and ultimately found dead in another area. We were hoping to find Sasha well and okay.”
The 27-year-old was reported missing in the early morning hours of Jan. 19, after her car was found abandoned in a church parking lot. Krause had reportedly left her home around 8 p.m. the night before and never returned. At first, detectives weren’t sure if Krause had left the Mennonite compound voluntarily or if she had been abducted. It appeared that the woman didn’t take any personal belongings, officials noted.
For weeks, investigators scoured the lonely landscape surrounding the Mennonite settlement near Farmington for any clues or signs of the woman. Helicopters, drones, K9 units, and ground teams conducted an “exhaustive and thorough search” in the weeks following Krause’s disappearance. A $50,000 reward was also offered up for information pertaining to her whereabouts. But search efforts ultimately yielded little promising evidence.
“In that specific area, the compound is pretty small, it’s not surrounded by a whole lot,” Harcrow said of the area. “It’s very sporadic and spread out and not a heavily populated area by any means.”
Then on Feb. 22, Coconino County deputies found Krause’s body near the volcanic crater. Krause's cause of death hasn't been released; authorities said the medical examiner's report is still pending.
“I think it’s all just kind of a mystery right now,” Coconino County sheriff’s spokesman Jon Paxton told KSAZ-TV. “Once we get a cause from the [medical examiner], that’s really going to lead us forward.”
Meanwhile, law enforcement officials in New Mexico described Krause as a “selfless,” deeply devoted Christian, who taught Sunday school classes at the remote Mennonite compound where she lived.
“She lived a life of service,” Harcrow said. “She was very Christ-like and had a great relationship with the lord.”
Apart from being profoundly spiritual, Krause was also described as “brilliant.” She wrote music and poetry, and was fluent in French and Spanish, Harcrow explained.
The public information officer said that the 27-year-old was originally from Texas and had no family in the area. She had moved to the area about a year and a half ago and was living in the Mennonite community known locally as Lamp and Light on a “volunteer service” basis.
“She was living here by choice to help the community and help teach those Sunday school classes and teach school children and things like that.”
It’s unclear if Krause had been raised a Mennonite; the sheriff’s spokesperson explained some members of the woman’s family aren’t practicing followers. Krause’s parents are from Grandview, Texas, she said.
“It shouldn't happen to anyone," Paul Kaufman, Krause's co-worker, told FOX10. "[She was] a dedicated Christian, so yeah, she leaves a big hole with us."
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