Police are investigating as a homicide the death of a retired elementary school teacher who was found Tuesday in her Fairhaven home, and authorities believe the victim knew her attacker, officials said Wednesday.
Bristol District Attorney C. Samuel Sutter’s office identified the victim as Joyce Howland, 69. A friend who went to her residence to check on her Tuesday morning discovered her body and called police.
“We have reason to believe the victim and the assailant were known to each other,” Gregg Miliote, a spokesman for Sutter, said in an e-mail. “We do not believe this was a random event and do not believe there is a current threat to the public.”
Miliote did not elaborate on the possible relationship between the assailant and Howland or say if authorities knew the identity of the attacker. Howland lived alone on Hamlet Street, Miliote said.
It was not clear if she had family in the area. Phone numbers for relatives could not be located Wednesday, and neighbors either did not return calls or declined to comment.
Fairhaven police referred questions to Sutter’s office.
“After responding to the scene, police and prosecutors immediately began an unattended death investigation,” his office said. “As the investigation intensified through the day and night on Tuesday, it became apparent that the death may be of a suspicious nature.”
Prosecutors said the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner performed an autopsy Wednesday, but officials did not release the results.
“Based upon the results of our preliminary investigation, coupled with the findings of the medical examiner, the death of Ms. Howland is now being investigated as a homicide,” Sutter’s office said.
Officials did not discuss the nature of Howland’s injuries or say how long she might have been dead. Miliote declined to provide additional information, citing the ongoing inquiry.
Howland taught for 34 years at the East Fairhaven, Rogers, and Wood elementary schools in town until her retirement in 2002, said Pam Kuechler, who chairs the School Committee. Kuechler, a parishioner of the First Congregational Church of Fairhaven, said Howland also attended services there.
“I just found her to be a pleasant person,” she said. “She was very active in the life of the church.”
Kuechler said she had seen a number of postings on social media from people who remembered Howland.
“It’s just a general feeling of shock,” she said. “It’s really horrible what happened.”
The pastor of First Congregational could not be reached for comment.
Another School Committee member, Bernard F. Roderick, a former superintendent of the school district, said Howland taught third grade at the East Fairhaven School for about two years at the end of his tenure as principal there. He left in 1990 to become superintendent.
“I’m just kind of waiting with bated breath to see what the outcome of this is going to be,” Roderick said of the investigation.
He said Howland’s death was particularly shocking because she lived in a “very nice residential neighborhood.”
The superintendent described Howland as a solid teacher.
“She did her job,” he said. “She did her job well.”
He added that he would occasionally see her at gatherings of other retired teachers and that nothing ever seemed out of the ordinary.
“There was nothing . . . certainly to give any cause to say what in God’s name happened here,” Roderick said.