LEXINGTON — A week ago Sunday, Shen Cai greeted worshipers and distributed bulletins at Chinese Bible Church of Greater Boston in Lexington with her fellowship group.
Now the congregation is mourning Cai, 49, who was found beaten to death at about 12:30 a.m. Thursday. Friends found her body in the driver’s seat of a white Honda CRV on the side of Worthen Road in Lexington and contacted police, the Middlesex district attorney’s office said.
“It’s really very sad news,” Yuegang Zhang, a minister at the church, said Saturday. “It’s really shocking.”
Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan announced Friday that Cai’s death is being investigated as a homicide, but authorities had made no arrests as of Saturday evening. A spokeswoman for Ryan said Saturday afternoon that there were no updates in the case.
Cai, who moved to the United States from China in 2015, was last seen by her husband and friends on Tuesday evening, Ryan’s office said.
The following day, her friends became concerned. Cai had told friends she was worried about her safety, Ryan said, and had missed two scheduled appointments.
The friends looked for Cai for several hours before finding her body on Worthen Road, which intersects with the street where she and her husband, Hongyan Sun, have owned a home since 2016, according to town records.
Sun had filed for divorce last September, citing an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, court records show. The couple met through mutual friends in 2013 and married two years later, according to divorce records.
Cai left her job in Shanghai as marketing director for Danone, the international food and beverage company, to move to Massachusetts with her daughter and marry Sun, who lived in Waltham at the time, court records show. The marriage didn’t produce any children, but Sun has a son, Ryan said.
Attorney Lei Reilley, who represented Cai in the divorce proceeding, said her client messaged her on Tuesday. Reilley said she responded two days later, but never heard from Cai, who was typically swift to write back.
On Friday, Reilley said she learned Cai had been found dead.
“She’s intelligent, successful, and talented,” Reilley said. “This really comes as a shock.”
The divorce case focused on dividing the couple’s assets, Reilley said, because there were no custody issues to negotiate.
Reilley said she wasn’t aware of any physical threats against Cai by Sun or anyone else. The estranged couple continued to share their house in Lexington while the divorce case was pending, she said.
Court papers filed last October describe the marital trouble from the perspective of Cai, who alleged that Sun subjected her to “frequent verbal and emotional abuse and other cruelty” and “sometimes made her and her daughter feel unsafe.”
Asked Friday if Sun was a suspect in Cai’s death, Ryan said: “We are very early in the investigation.”
Efforts to reach Sun were unsuccessful on Saturday . He spoke briefly Friday evening with TV reporters after he arrived home dressed in blue scrubs. Sun said he knew little about how Cai died and called her “a great lady.”
Sun’s divorce lawyer didn’t return messages Saturday.
Neighbors on Baskin Road expressed shock at the killing and struggled to make sense of the violence. Some residents said they occasionally saw Cai in the neighborhood, but rarely, if ever, caught a glimpse of Sun.
Steve Clark, 74, said he met Sun once when he bumped into him and Cai, and then walked with the couple to a nearby bus stop.
“It just seemed odd that . . . she’d be around the house, and we never saw him,” said Clark. “Except that one time.”
He said he saw “nothing to indicate” any problems in the household.
Zhang and Juta Pan, senior pastor at Chinese Bible Church of Greater Boston, said Cai was baptized there in December 2017 and regularly attended Mandarin worship services. She participated in a fellowship group that met Friday evenings to study the Bible, they said.
The group was named Hope, and members took turns hosting the weekly gathering in their homes.
“The group is very close,” Pan said.
Cai was a gifted vocalist. Reilley said she saw her sing a Chinese song at a karaoke gathering in Weston and was impressed.
“That takes a lot of confidence,” she said.
During a Chinese New Year celebration at the church in February, Zhang said Cai performed a song from “Big Fish & Begonia,” a Chinese animated epic fantasy film that was released in China in 2016.
At church last Sunday, Cai was “very joyful,” he said.
“She was very loving, very sweet,” Zhang said.
Pan and Zhang said they are trying to support Cai’s family, members of her fellowship group, and others who knew her.
“We feel sad,” Pan said. “We will try to help this family and show God’s love to them.”