Belize police questioning suspect in murder of Chicago journalist

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CHICAGO -- Chicago tourist Anne Swaney was found murdered in Belize last week.  Autopsy results determined that she was strangled. An examination also revealed lacerations and bruises on her head.

The 39-year-old journalist was vacationing at a popular destination for Americans when authorities say they found her dead body in the Mopan River on January 15. Police and their canine team began searching for Swaney the day before when an employee of Nabitunich Cottages and Farm reported that she was missing.

Police are questioning a Guatemalan suspect who was fishing nearby. A spokesman for police in Belize on Sunday did not provide further details on the person in custody.

"We are saddened and shocked by this," said Belize public information officer Rafael Martinez on Sunday. "It really dampens our spirit." He added that police are still "in the investigative phase" and that they're hoping by Monday they'll know whether others were involved.

Swaney was a journalist at ABC 7 Chicago who loved traveling and riding horses. Swaney had planned to ride in one of the group expeditions that are popular there, to see Mayan ruins or the nearby jungle. When organizers were short one horse, Swaney volunteered to stay behind and practice yoga instead.

Swaney grew up near Kansas City, where her parents, brother and sister-in-law are in the midst of an excruciating wait for more information. Authorities in Belize have advised that they remain in the U.S.

This tragedy comes two and a half years after Swaney's other brother, John, died at the age of 38.

On Friday, Swaney’s colleagues at Channel 7 grieved.

“The station obviously was hit pretty hard by this news. Stations are families like any workplace. It’s a family and the newsroom is broken up about it,” said John Idler, president and general manager at ABC 7.

“I’ve been a journalist now for almost 30 years and it was the most difficult thing I have ever had to do,” said Kevin Carpenter, director of digital operations at ABC 7.

Swaney mentored countless journalists, including WGN’s own Elyse Russo, who recalled a training session on Christmas Day.

“She worked with me that day, and I just remember thinking, 'Wow, this is a boss that anyone would be lucky to have,'" recalled Russo, executive producer of digital content at WGN-TV. "All of our hearts at WGN are with our competitors at Channel 7, thinking about them during this time. I can’t even imagine what it would be like."

The U.S. Embassy is referring all questions about this case to the local police department, but the Department of State's website notes an increase in crime rates in Belize during recent years, crimes like theft, hotel room invasion, pick pocketing and purse snatching.

Swaney's family says they expect her body will be transported to their home near Kansas City on Tuesday or Wednesday.

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