Police, neighbors and friends struggled to unravel the mysterious deaths of a Nebraska woman and her 10-year-old son that began with them appearing to go on an excursion and ended with their bodies found deep in the woods of an Iowa state park.
Charlotte Schilling, 41, of Plattsmouth, Nebraska, and her son, Owen, had been missing since May 10, when the mother checked the boy out of his elementary school. It was not unusual for the stay-at-home mother-of-three to surprise her children with short road trips to parks, zoos and other nearby attractions, relatives said.
But the Schilling always called home and the excursions never lasted long. Her family grew worried when neither she nor Owen returned home, and her cellphone went unanswered.
Gone: Charlotte Schilling, 41, checked her son Owen, 10, out of his elementary school on May 10 to go camping and had not been heard from since
Charlotte's daughter, Lindsay Schilling, 20, said that is when she became concerned. 'I called until her phone died - every minute,' she told KETV.com. 'The fact that she didn't pick up mine - that's when it hit me: there's something wrong right now.'
'None of this makes sense,' said Polly Best, who lives next door to the Schillings. 'It's just tragic. There was never a hint of anything wrong there.'
Best stood outside the family's home on Tuesday holding a roast she had cooked for relatives gathered inside. Yellow police tape blocked the Schillings' driveway and front steps from reporters trying to talk to family members and neighbors wanting to offer condolences.
Surveillance video from a convenience store in the area where the woman and boy's bodies were found Sunday showed Owen hugging his mom and Schilling kissing her son on the head. KETV in Omaha aired the store video footage.
'I just can't believe it,' Best said. 'That did not look to me like a woman who would hurt her child.'
But that appears to be what investigators believe may have happened.
Mystery: Police have not ruled out the possibility of a murder-suicide in the deaths of Charlotte Schilling, left, and her son Owen, right
Police in Council Bluffs, Iowa, said on Tuesday they 'do not suspect any outside foul play' in the deaths of Schilling and her son. Their bodies were found on Sunday evening in Lake Manawa State Park, south of Council Bluffs in western Iowa, about 20 miles north of Plattsmouth.
Authorities investigating the deaths added they are not looking for an 'outside' killer or at-large suspect.
Asked whether that means police believe Mrs Schilling killed her son and then herself, Police Sgt. Dave Dawson replied: 'I can't say at this point.'
Dawson told the Omaha World-Herald that police are convinced 'a murderer is not on the loose,' adding that the mother and son were not victims of an attacker.
Investigators stopped short of labeling the case a murder-suicide, saying they must wait for further autopsy results before determining the cause of death.
Council Bluffs Sgt. Dave Dawson said he expected to announce the cause of death by the end of the week. Investigators are leaning toward the belief that the bodies had been in the spot where they were found since May 10, the day that Schilling checked Owen out of Wade Robin Elementary School in Bellevue, Nebraska, and they went missing.
Happy: Carl schilling, left, with his wife Charlotte Schilling, centre, and their son Owen, right, in a family photo posted on Facebook in 2010
The day after they disappeared, police found Schilling's vehicle at the same park where the pair would eventually be found dead. Schilling's cellphone and wallet were in her car.
Nine days after the discovery of the vehicle, a passer-by found the woman and boy's bodies in thick woods about a half-mile from where the car had been parked. Authorities had to rely on autopsy results to confirm the identities because the bodies had decomposed.
'I just about went to my knees,' said the family's neighbor, Naomi Raposo, 50, describing her reaction to news of the deaths. She just found out Tuesday, not realizing that earlier reports of bodies being found were about Schilling and her son.
'They've been very peaceful neighbors. They're very friendly,' Raposo said.
The night before the woman and boy went missing, another neighbor, Athena Meneses, said she spoke to Schilling at a local Cub Scout meeting, where Meneses had taken her own son and Owen. Owen had wanted to join the group, Meneses said.
'I didn't really know her very well, but she seemed upset. She had a bump on her head," Meneses said of Schilling. "She didn't seem like she was really happy that night. She said she wasn't feeling well and that she'd like to go home. She told me that she had fallen down earlier that day.'
Sunday night a passerby saw two decomposed bodies found at Lake Manawa State Park . After an autopsy officials confirmed on Tuesday that they were the mother and son
The night before she disappeared Charlotte told a neighbor she didn't feel well and had fallen and bumped her head. But her husband said nothing was out of the ordinary
Meneses and her family moved to Plattsmouth about two years ago, just blocks from the Schillings. She said Owen was a playmate to her four oldest children, ages 6 to 14.
'We had a trampoline, and he would come over almost every day to play on that,' she said.
Owen was closest to her eight-year-old son, Christian. 'I think my son said it best: He was energy-filled, and a very happy little boy,' Meneses said.
School officials said students were having difficulty coping with the fifth-grader's death. Tuesday was the last day of school before summer break.
'There's a lot of sadness and a lot of confusion,' said Bellevue Public Schools Superintendent Frank Harwood.
Cody Johnson, a clerk at the Lake Manawa convenience store where surveillance video captured Schilling and her son shortly after she checked him out of school, was one of the last people to see them alive.
Schilling bought a pack of cigarettes for herself, and apple juice and snacks for Owen.
'The kid came in all hyper, like a normal kid would be, and went around looking at stuff,' Johnson said. 'Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. They were just like any other mom and son. There was nothing that showed me anything bad was going to happen.'
Investigators have been treating the case as if the boy had been kidnapped, but they had said they didn't believe he was in danger.
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