INVERNESS, Fla. - A Citrus County woman was found dead inside her home Saturday. Investigators are now trying to figure out what happened to 57-year-old teacher Denise Hallowell, and if, perhaps, there was any foul play.
Saturday afternoon, Citrus County deputies were called out to Howell's a home at the end of South Dodge Point, a narrow, one-lane road in a quiet neighborhood in Inverness.
The 911 caller, whose name is redacted in the case report, told deputies he last saw Hallowell at 2 p.m. A little later, he noticed an open gate and went looking for the dog in case it got out. When he heard a bark, he went to check on Hallowell and found her dead, lying in bed.
It's been more than three days with no answers. The case report calls it a homicide.
Just over three years ago, we met Hallowell during a tumultuous time in her life. The youngest of her two adopted sons had accused her of abuse. She was arrested, lost her job and kids. But the State Attorney's Office later cleared Hallowell of all charges, saying there was not enough evidence.
"Situations are not always what they seem," Hallowell said in an interview. "Don't be quick to judge and that's exactly what happened here."
Hallowell began rebuilding her life and reputation with her older son, working as a teacher at Liberty Middle School in Marion County.
"She was just a nice person," said Danita Smith, who worked with Hallowell at two previous schools.
"She was the teacher that the kids knew they could talk to, that they could confide in. She was there to help, no matter what the problem or situation," said Smith, now Director of Education at NEWCorp, Inc.
Smith says Hallowell was an excellent educator and a proud, loving mother with many more lessons left to teach.
"It's just really a sad, sad outcome for her because I just really believe the potential was there to do so much more than she had a chance to do," Smith said.