MACON, Ga. --- A few hours after Lauren Giddings was reported missing, officers made a macabre discovery outside the recent law school graduate's apartment building: Her dismembered remains.
DNA tests have confirmed those remains were hers, but investigators are pleading for help finding the rest of her body. Who killed the 27-year-old woman -- and why -- is still a mystery.
Giddings, a tall, popular blonde, graduated from Mercer University Law School in May. She then went home to Laurel, Md., to be in her sister's wedding. She had returned to Macon just long enough to study for the bar exam, consider a couple of job offers and pack her things.
"What seemed to be everything falling into place has turned into a nightmare," Bill Giddings, the slain woman's father, said Thursday in Macon, where her family had gathered. "We can't wait to find who did this, and we can't wait to find the rest of her. It's just wrenching in both cases."
Family and friends said it's hard to imagine why anyone would harm Giddings.
During the three years she studied law at Mercer, the young woman attended Mass every Sunday -- and often several times during the week -- at St. Joseph Catholic Church in downtown Macon, said the church's pastor, the Rev. Allan McDonald. Members of the local running club she belonged to saw a less serious side of Giddings, who as a newcomer hopped into a small creek to cool her legs not realizing the water was deeper than she could stand in. Friend and fellow runner Jason Keith said a soaked Giddings laughed off the goof without a shred of self-consciousness.
She was a striking blond who stood about 6 feet tall, so tall that law professor Sarah Gerwig-Moore said she dreaded standing next to Giddings in group photos.
"We're all shocked and sad. A light has gone out," Gerwig-Moore said. "Mercer is a small, close-knit community, and we've lost a member of the family."
Giddings also had a soft-spot for underdogs. Her professor said she had wanted to be a capital defender, representing suspects facing the death penalty. Neighbors would see her walking her one-eyed dog, Butterbean.
Police say Giddings was last seen by friends during a night out June 25. Keith said he didn't worry after not seeing her for several days, figuring she was hunkered down studying for the bar exam.
A friend reported Giddings missing to police the evening of June 29. Officers found her keys, her cell phone and her wallet inside her apartment, and no sign of a break-in or struggle. They also found an e-mail she had sent her boyfriend, an Atlanta lawyer, saying she feared someone had tried to break into her apartment the week before, said police spokeswoman Jami Gaudet.
Outside the apartment building, an officer smelled a foul odor and found the body. Giddings' father told The Associated Press on Thursday that police found only a torso. Police Chief Mike Burns said Thursday that he could not release more details on the case.
Burns did acknowledge police are still looking for some of the woman's remains at a news conference Wednesday, when he announced that DNA tests -- using hair from a brush that belonged to Giddings -- confirmed she was the victim.
Gaudet said police have been answering a steady stream of calls from Macon residents reporting odd smells or freshly disturbed patches of dirt. They also searched the landfill the same day fresh garbage was delivered, combed the banks of the Ocmulgee River that runs through downtown Macon and used camera probes to peek inside storm drains near the apartment.
So far, they have found nothing.
No arrests have been made in Giddings' slaying, but Gaudet said police have several persons of interest and are working to eliminate them as suspects. A motive for the killing remains unclear, Gaudet said.
A memorial service for Giddings was scheduled Saturday at the Macon church she attended.