Ritz Maze made desperate phone calls to family members from the trunk of a car where she had been held captive, but police could not find her in time. On Wednesday, the woman’s body was found still inside the car 250 miles from where she was kidnapped.
Now, police have launched a massive search for the person who kidnapped and killed the Montana woman, which they believe was a random attack. As NBC News reported, federal investigators have joined the murder investigation. Meanwhile, police in Montana are looking at surveillance footage from a convenience store and have a person of interest in the case.
Maze had been driving to her home in Great Falls on Tuesday morning after visiting family in Helena when she stopped along Interstate 15 at a rest stop. It was there that the Montana mother was reportedly attacked and kidnapped.
Despite being hit on the head and stuffed into the car’s trunk, Rita Maze was able to call her husband and daughter on Tuesday night to tell them she had been kidnapped. Maze also spoke with a police officer from Helena, but the phone’s signal faded as the car traveled toward Spokane, Washington.
Family members said Rita was hysterical and difficult to understand, but they tried to soothe and calm her.
“I told her that I loved her,” her daughter, Rochelle Maze, told CBS News. “That’s the last thing she heard.”
Police in Spokane picked up the trail, following the movement of the car by tracking the cell phone’s signals bouncing off cell towers, NBC News reported.
They were too late to save Rita Maze, however. Police found her body still inside the trunk of the car outside the Spokane International Airport.
Federal investigators have now joined the search for a suspect in Rita Maze’s murder as the kidnapping crossed state lines. So far, the agency has not given an update on the case, including the exact circumstances on how she was killed.
While the hunt for her killer continues, those in Rita’s community are mourning her death. Family members said she was a devoted and loving mother.
“My mom was always a playful mom,” Rochelle Maze told KXLH. “She was always swimming with us in the pool and throwing us around. Taking us on park days and always being a kid with us. She was a child at heart at all times. That is what I remember about my mom.”
Rita Maze worked as a cook at Morningside Elementary School in Great Falls and was praised for her love of the children there.
“I could really trust that she was really going to take care of kids and build that trust,” Bill Salonen, the school’s principal, told the Great Falls Tribune.
Other family and friends have started a GoFundMe page to raise money for Maze’s funeral expenses, one that has drawn donations and condolences from across the country. In less than 24 hours since the page was activated, it has already drawn in more than $12,000 in donations, topping the goal of $10,000.
This is a photo of Rita Maze & her daughter Rochelle. Family tells me she was an amazing person who loved her family pic.twitter.com/q1hq93ng4p
— Lindsay Nadrich (@KREMLindsay) September 7, 2016
Family members also used the page to spread the word about Rita’s life.
“We as a community will come together in this horrific time for the Maze family. We need to do whatever it takes to make things easier for the family to grieve. Proceeds will go to helping to defray service expenses for this genuinely beautiful soul. Anything helps and is much appreciated. Please pray for the Maze family, they need all the support and strength they can get right now. God bless.”
Police have not yet released any information about suspects or motive in the murder of Rita Maze.
[Image via Maze family/GoFundMe]