Belize police continue search for killer in murder of ABC7 producer

Michelle Gallardo Image
Monday, January 18, 2016
Search for Anne Swaney's murder continues
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Belize investigators scoured the riverbank near where she was found, looking for additional evidence.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Belize officials said Sunday they have stepped up their search for the person who killed ABC7 executive producer Anne Swaney, who was found murdered in the Central America nation.

Law enforcement is keeping much of their investigation secret, however, ABC7 has obtained photos from a canine search conducted Sunday afternoon in the area where Swaney's body was found. Police said finding her killer is a top priority.

Belize investigators scoured the riverbank near where she was found, looking for additional evidence. Meanwhile, sources in Belize said police are interviewing employees of the eco-resort she was staying at.

Swaney, 39, a 16-year veteran of ABC7, died of strangulation and blunt force trauma to the head and neck, according to Belize officials. She was found dead in the Mopan River near Nabitunich Farm, the horseback-riding farm in western Belize where she was staying. She had went to the river to practice yoga Thursday morning.

A motive for the attack is unclear. Swaney's body is expected to arrive in her native Missouri on Tuesday.

Her father, Jack Swaney, of Missouri, spoke publicly Sunday for the first time since his daughter's death.

"Anne Elizabeth had a very short life. She had a very full life. And it hasn't sunk in on what we lost," Jack Swaney said.

WATCH: Jack Swaney talk about his daughter

Santiago Juan, the owner and manager of Nabitunich Farm, spoke to ABC7 on Saturday and remembered Swaney, who had visited the farm before.

"She's a very outgoing person," Juan said. "Very vivid. Loved to ride and that's what she came to do, to ride horses."

WATCH: Eco-resort owner recalls Anne Swaney's last days

Officially on Sunday, police would not say much, other than to confirm that a Guatemalan fisherman who entered the country illegally and was arrested Friday is still in custody. However, he has not been charged and police will still only call him a person of interest.

"If he's guilty he will be charged," said Rafael Martinez, a spokesman for the Belize Ministry of National Security. "We will find out whether he had an accomplice or did this on his own. But I don't want to speculate on that at this point ... not only because she's an American tourist, but a life has been lost and we take this very, very seriously. "

Swaney's cellphone is still missing. Police said they are still trying to track it.

Anne Swaney.
Courtesy of Amy Schroeder

Meanwhile, at Sarah's Stable in suburban Willow Springs, where Swaney kept her beloved horse, Sequoia, friends were stunned by the news of her death.

"She trusted them. She felt safe there. We felt safe letting her go alone," said friend Ashley Wright, of Swaney's Belize destination. "Two months ago, three months ago, we were still talking (about) how can we swing it that we all go together."

Fellow horse-back riders are still struggling with the loss.

"I just stood here and cried with him," Wright said of Sequoia. "He immediately knew something was wrong. I think it will be a good month before he figures it out, because she's our little jet setter and she travels a lot."

WATCH: Remembering Anne Swaney

News of Anne's death brought tears at ABC7, where she was being remembered as a newsroom leader.

RAW VIDEO: Police chief speaks about Anne Swaney's murder in Belize