Laura Wallen, the pregnant Wilde Lake High School teacher reported missing last week, was found dead Wednesday in a shallow grave in a secluded field in Damascus, Montgomery County police said. Police said they have arrested Wallen’s boyfriend in her death.
Tyler Tessier was arrested Wednesday and will be charged in her murder, Montgomery County Police Chief Tom Manger said. Police do not know of a motive. Medical examiners will perform an autopsy to determine the cause of death.
The 31-year-old social studies teacher from Olney was reported missing Sept. 5, after she failed to show up for the first day of classes. She was four months pregnant.
Police said Tessier was the last person known to have been with the victim. They were seen together on surveillance video at a grocery store near Wallen's home on Sept. 2, police said. Police believe she was killed the next day.
The victim's sister received text messages from Wallen's phone on Monday morning. Police said they suspect they were sent by Tessier.
Manger said police determined the suspect drove the victim's car to the Columbia area. He admitted to removing the front tag and disposing of it and disposing of her license and iPhone, Manger said.
Tessier texted an acquaintance to ask for a ride to Baltimore on Sunday night and needed help to "clean up a mess," Manger said. The acquaintance declined to help.
Tessier had made several trips to an acquaintance's property on Prices Distillery Road in Damascus, where he would sometimes stay. The property had open fields and woods, police said. Police obtained a search warrant and went to the area Wednesday.
During the search, police said, investigators found tire tracks and freshly dug ground on a nearby property. There they found Wallen's body at noon.
The property owner had no involvement in her killing or burial, Manger said.
Tessier participated with Wallen’s family in a news conference Monday about her disappearance. The family offered a reward for information leading to her return.
“I pray that she’s safe and that she comes back,” Tessier said at the news conference.
Manger said he was a person of interest at the time, but police made a calculated decision to allow him to participate in the conference to hear what he had to say. The victim's family gave their approval.
Wallen sent a text message to either her sister or a friend Sept. 2, Manger said. Wallen texted that Tessier had taken her to an open field in Damascus and she wasn't sure why they were there. The friend told her to take a picture and she did, Manger said.
Tessier was living at three different locations during the week, and police said they have questioned the people he lived with.
"This is one of those tragic cases where you have an absolutely innocent victim,” Manger said. “Just a senseless killing.”
He said prosecutors would determine whether to charge Tessier in the unborn baby’s death.
Tessier’s family could not be reached for comment.
Howard County Public Schools officials said they would send a crisis team Wednesday night at Wilde Lake High School and Thursday at the high school and Murray Hill Middle School to support students and staff members.
“My heart goes out to the people who prayed so hard for her safe return and are devastated by this news,” interim Superintendent Michael Martirano said.