Tale of Mother 'Kidnapped' at Montana Rest Stop Begins to Unravel - NBC Bay Area
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Tale of Mother 'Kidnapped' at Montana Rest Stop Begins to Unravel

The FBI — which is part of the investigation because the car crossed state lines — said Wednesday that it had identified a "person of interest" in the case. But Thursday, it told KHQ that it's no longer seeking anybody



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    "Tragedy has struck our small community in Great Falls. On September 6, 2016, loving wife, mother, and dear friend Rita Maze (L) was kidnapped and attacked while traveling back to her home in Great Falls, Montana after a trip to see her mother in Helena," a GoFundMe page set up for the family writes. In the family photo, Rita Maze (L) is pictured with daughter Rochelle Maze (R).

    Investigators are trying to piece together how a Montana woman ended up dead in her car near Spokane International Airport, and are running into more questions than answers.

    Rita Maze, 47, was found in the closed trunk of her Pontiac Grand Prix early Wednesday with a 9 mm handgun and two spent shell casings next to her, deputies said. There was blood on the ground.

    Her purse, containing $50, was on the passenger side floorboard in the locked car and the keys were in the ignition. An iPad was found on the rear floorboard.

    "It makes no sense," her 23-year-old daughter, Rochelle Maze, said. "They could have taken the car, could have taken money from her. And then they leave the car there, and that's because this is an evil monster of a person."

    Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said they are still trying to trace how Maze ended up more than 320 miles away from the rest stop north of Helena, Montana, where she told her family she had been abducted.

    Rochelle Maze told NBC 5 affiliate station KQH that her mother had traveled to Helena, about 90 miles southwest of their Great Falls hometown, to visit relatives Monday before staying overnight.

    On Tuesday, Maze called her husband around 11:25 a.m. to say she had started the drive home, Rochelle said.

    Hours passed, and at 3:45 p.m. Maze’s husband tried to call her but didn’t get an answer. When the family still had not heard back at 8:30 p.m., a missing person’s report was filed, KHQ reports.

    Rochelle said her mother's credit card was used to make purchases at gas stations in Kingston, Idaho and Ritzville, Washington before she called her husband at 10:25 p.m. saying, “Help me.”

    Her mother was "hysterical" when Rochelle says she received a call from her shortly after in a panic to tell her she had been hit in the head and overpowered by a man she didn't know at a rest stop along Interstate 15.

    In phone calls to both her husband and Rochelle, Maze she was in the trunk of her car as it was moving and that she didn't know where she was. Maze said the man had access to the gun she kept in her purse for protection.

    The Spokane County Sheriff's Office was able to track her movements through signals from local cell towers before the phone went dead or lost signal and they were unable to reach her again.

    "I told her that I loved her," Rochelle Maze said. "That's the last thing she heard."

    An officer who called Maze's cellphone after Maze contacted her family said someone answered the phone and the officer heard gunshots, then silence, court records uncovered by NBC News said.

    Maze's cause of death was a single gunshot wound to chest and abdomen, according to the medical examiner’s report. The report had no further details.

    The case is currently classified as a death investigation, not a homicide.

    "We know where the body was located; we know where she started out," he told The Spokesman-Review. "What happened in between? Don't know."

    Rochelle Maze believes her mother met with foul play.

    "I believe she was abducted," Rochelle told The Spokesman-Review. "She did not hit herself, stuff herself in the trunk and drive all the way to Spokane and shoot herself."

    Law enforcement officers initially said there was a person of interest, but on Thursday, said that person had been ruled out.

    Maze was a longtime cook at Morningside Elementary School, the Great Falls Tribune reported. The school's former principal told NBC News she "had such a positive presence" on the students.

    The Spokane Sheriff said nothing is being ruled out, whether it be kidnapping, homicide, or self-inflicted, according to KHQ.

    Rochelle Maze told KHQ her mother was a loving person and there were no family problems.

    "I believe they shot her and left the gun and keys in there to make it look like she killed herself," Rochelle Maze said. "I know she did not."

    When asked if her mother had any known enemies, she told KHQ, "no way."

    "My mom does not make enemies. No one would have any reason to do this to her at all," Rochelle said in the same interview.

    Sheriff's spokesman Deputy Mark Gregory said the case is being called a death investigation, rather than a homicide, because law enforcement officers do not know what exactly happened to Maze. They do not have a suspect.

    "We do not believe there is any imminent danger to the community," Gregory said.