SIDNEY, Mont. - Law enforcement officials here are offering few details about the death of Sidney High School teacher Sherry Arnold, or the two men possibly involved with her disappearance.
In a late afternoon press conference Friday as snow started to fall on Sidney, Richland County Sheriff Frank DiFonzo announced the investigation was moving rapidly but declined to give details or answer questions about the case.
A 47-year-old suspect was in custody in the Williams County Jail in Williston, N.D., DiFonzo said. A second man, 22, was being held for questioning in Rapid City, S.D.
"Dozens and dozens of tips have been called into the tip line by residents," DiFonzo said. "Today, as a result of a tip, we're able to announce that a significant breakthrough has been made."
He would not elaborate on the breakthrough, saying only that the 47-year-old man was arrested Thursday night through a joint operation staged by law enforcement officials from Williston, Williams County, the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the FBI.
The press conference was held in the lobby of Richland County's new Law Enforcement Center. By the time it began, at least 50 people had crowded into the entryway, many of them residents curious to know the latest information in Arnold's case.
Law enforcement officials confirmed with the Sidney School District on Friday morning that the missing high school math teacher was dead and that a suspect was in custody.
The notification came to the school at 9:30 a.m., following notification of Arnold's family, said Superintendent Daniel Farr.
"It's very sobering," he said.
The school shortened its school day and canceled its Friday games.
Arnold, 43, was reported missing last Saturday after failing to return from her morning jog. In the hours following her disappearance, hundreds of volunteers turned out to help in the search. The only thing investigators found was one of Arnold's running shoes, left on the side of a street east of the city sugar beet refinery.
Arnold's family, including her husband, Gary, asked for privacy, as word of the death was released on Friday morning.
"We just want some privacy and some time to process what has happened," said Karen Arnold Truax, Gary Arnold's daughter from St. Paul, Minn.
"We want to be together as a family. We appreciate everything that everyone did to help us in this search. We are so heartbroken that this is the outcome. We just sincerely appreciate all the love and support that continues to come from the community," Truax said.
After nearly a week of worry, the Sidney mayor was somewhat relieved.
"We're getting some closure," said Sidney Mayor Bret Smelser. "That's the only good news we've had in the past three or four days. It's always difficult when something like this happens on your watch.
"The news is not good, and as far as I know we don't have a body yet," he said.
Smelser said he knows Arnold and her parents well. They all attend Trinity Lutheran Church in Sidney.
Smelser said that in the coming weeks and months, the community will have to discuss how to move forward. Some are calling for increased law enforcement, which is difficult given the city's budget constraints, he said. Another option might be reinstituting the community watch program that has fallen by the wayside.
Some people are rushing to get handguns, Smelser said.
"My job right now is to make sure the community stays whole and that means assimilating our new neighbors coming to town," he said. "Let's not overreact."
The mayor said one of the "greatest" things to surface out of the tragedy is that all of eastern Montana and western North Dakota were concerned and were out looking for Arnold.
Arnold's death comes at the end of two gut-wrenching weeks, said Wade VanEvery, executive director of the Sidney Area Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture.
"We're overwhelmed in Sidney right now because we've had a lot of tragedy," Van Every said. "This one is especially close to us because everyone knew Sherry. It's not the kind of thing we ever imagined would happen in Sidney."
The string of tragedy began on Dec. 27 when the chamber's administrative assistant lost her family in a fatal car accident.
"That rocked the whole community," he said.
On New Year's Eve, 46-year-old Sidney firefighter Ray Verhasselt was killed in an avalanche while snowmobiling north of Cooke City.
And, on Tuesday, a stove fire at the Triangle Nite Club destroyed the building. A woman inside the building was able to escape without injury.
"I know nothing of the particulars about Sherry's death but I do know that in this day and age, those things can happen," he said. "All communities, in time, will have tragedies like this."
Kim Kain, 37, assistant manager at Millers' Corner, a gas and convenience store in Sidney, said, "It's sad for the whole community. We are not used to this stuff happening in Sidney. It's sad, but it's shocking. It's just downright shocking."
Kain's son, Kody, 16, had Sherry Arnold for a teacher.
Arnold's death has taken a toll on the student body though many don't say much.
"You know how kids are," Kain said. "They're sad, too."
Kain said the incident has put the entire community on edge, especially women. Many are buying Mace, halting their solo activities outdoors and breaking out of their routine schedules.
"Women are just being much more cautious," Kain said.
FBI and local law enforcement officials said earlier in the week they were investigating the possibility that Arnold was abducted from the town along the North Dakota border, which has been changing rapidly in recent years due to an oil boom.
The FBI set up an automated tip line Tuesday and received several tips.
Hundreds of residents, police, firefighters and others were organized to comb the town and surrounding countryside. Law enforcement officials also went door to door seeking information.