PRINCETON — Vanessa Marcotte had been home for a few days, visiting her mother, when she decided to go for a Sunday afternoon jog in this quiet, wooded community near Worcester. But when she didn’t return home, her family worried and called the police.
Several hours later, a State Police K-9 unit found Marcotte’s body in the woods off Brooks Station Road, a half-mile from her mother’s house.
The slaying of the 27-year-old Leominster native, a graduate of Boston University who worked at Google in New York City, set this small, quiet town on edge.
“I must stress that we do not know if this was a random act,” Worcester District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr. said at a news conference Monday. “We are asking residents of Princeton and surrounding areas to use an abundance of caution. We are asking the public to be careful and to be vigilant.”
Michele Powers, Princeton’s police chief, echoed that message, saying “we are concerned about the safety of town residents and ask people to pay attention to their surroundings.”
Authorities said they believed Marcotte had been running along the two-lane road.
A law enforcement official briefed on the case said there are indications that Marcotte’s body had been burned and that investigators are working to determine whether she was sexually assaulted. The official, who was not authorized to discuss the case, spoke on condition of anonymity.
Early did not say how Marcotte was killed but said investigators are focused on the hours between 1 p.m. — when she left her mother’s house — and 4 p.m. Sunday. Her body was found at 8:20 p.m.
Early said there was “nothing at this point” to connect Marcotte’s killing to last week’s murder of Karina Vetrano, who was killed while jogging near her home in Queens, N.Y.
On Monday, police blocked off part of Brooks Station Road, and investigators could be seen combing through the woods and scanning the ground.
Marcotte graduated from the Bancroft School in Worcester in 2007 and from Boston University in 2011, where she studied communications, according to her LinkedIn profile. After college, she worked in several marketing jobs in Boston before starting as a health care account manager at Google last year.
“Vanessa Marcotte was a much-loved member of the Google team, working in our New York office for the last year and a half, and known for her ubiquitous smile, passion for volunteer work, and love of Boston sports,” the company said in a statement. “We are deeply shocked and saddened, and our thoughts are with her family and friends.”
Larry Kim, founder of WordStream, an Internet marketing firm in Boston, said he hired Marcotte directly out of college in the summer of 2011 and watched her rise from customer service to management in less than two years.
“I am just in complete disbelief,” Kim said. “She was a wonderful young woman and very ambitious and had a brilliant career cut short.”
Several of Marcotte’s relatives declined to comment.
In Princeton, a prosperous town of 3,400 about 15 miles north of Worcester, residents said they were alarmed at the prospect that Marcotte’s killer might still be in their midst.
One resident of Brooks Station Road said State Police showed up at her doorstep around 1:30 a.m., asking whether she or her husband had seen anything unusual. She hadn’t, but said the large, wooded lots along the road make it easy to avoid notice.
“I can see how, maybe, she was walking or jogging by one of these properties, or even in front of my house, and someone could grab her and bring her right into the woods,” she said, declining to give her name.
Terry Hart, who lives near Brooks Station Road, said that he has two young daughters who jog regularly in the area and has never worried about them.
“People run all the time,” he said. “This town is very safe.”
Stan Moss, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said the town was planning to send residents a “code red” alert by text, e-mail, and phone, “asking people to be aware.”
“Nobody’s speculating there’s a risk, but it’s a time and place to be aware, which is pretty atypical for our community,” Moss said. “We’re rural and quiet and a lot of people don’t lock their cars and leave their doors open. It’s a shock.”
Moss said he could not recall a homicide in the town in his 33 years there.
In 2013, a local dentist was charged with manslaughter, two years after his wife was found dead beneath a shattered third-floor window of their home.
Joanne Kay, manager of the Mountainside Market, a local bakery and cafe, said she plans to hand over surveillance video from her store to investigators because joggers, cyclists, and hikers frequently stop in for refreshments.
“It’s devastating,” she said Monday. “It’s like your own daughter.”