GREAT FALLS, Mont. — A longtime Great Falls elementary school cook was kidnapped at a rest stop near Wolf Creek on Tuesday evening and later found dead in Spokane County, Wash., according to the Lewis and Clark County Sheriff's Office.
Early Wednesday, the Spokane County Sheriff's Office discovered the body of Rita Maze, 47, in a trunk of a vehicle near the Spokane International Airport, about 325 miles west of Wolf Creek, Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton in Montana said.
Family members contacted Helena police at around 8:20 p.m. Tuesday saying that Maze was missing and that there was foul play involved.
Maze had called her husband and said a man had hit her on the head and that she was now in the trunk of her car, a black Pontiac Grant Prix, Dutton said.
"We do know that Rita was in Helena visiting her relatives earlier that day," Dutton said. "She fueled up and was headed back to Great Falls and stopped at a rest area which she thought was south of Craig some place," Dutton said.
Investigators believe the abduction occurred near a rest stop near Wolf Creek, about 50 miles south of Great Falls on Interstate 15.
Helena police put out an attempt to locate the vehicle nationwide, and the license plate of the vehicle was spotted in Post Falls, Idaho, east of Spokane, Dutton said.
In the meantime, Maze's husband was able to make contact again with his wife as she was in the trunk of the traveling vehicle.
"She is saying she's kidnapped," Dutton said.
The husband lost and regained contact with his wife as cell coverage went in and out, Dutton said.
Dutton also said Helena police spoke to Maze while she was in the trunk.
"Prior to her death, a Helena police officer had been able to talk to her," Dutton said.
The cause of death was not released.
Dutton said there is a person of interest in the case and that authorities were looking at a surveillance video from a convenience store.
Because of the interstate travel involved, the FBI is assisting in the investigation.
FBI media spokesperson, Sandra Barker, said the federal law enforcement agencies was working in conjunction with the Lewis and Clark County Sheriff's Office, but would not confirm FBI agents were investigating a specific person of interest.
Maze's body was discovered about 12:30 a.m. Wednesday by Spokane County sheriff's deputies who were searching for a woman reported missing, Deputy Mark Gregory said. The body was in a car found in a parking lot in an industrial area.
Maze worked for years as a cook at Morningside Elementary in Great Falls.
“She, one, had such a positive presence,” said Bill Salonen, former principal at Morningside.
Salonen said he had an expectation that if you served food or cleaned classrooms that you’d do more than that – you would also make connections with kids.
“And really, Rita was the epitome of that,” Salonen said. “I could really trust that she was really going to take care of kids and build that trust.”
Contributing: The (Spokane, Wash.) Spokesman-Review