OLDSMAR - To neighbors at the Westminster apartments, Jennifer L. Gonzalez was a beautiful and friendly presence, always greeting passersby and once offering to rush a stranger with a sick child to the hospital.
So when a neighbor ran screaming that there was a body in the retention pond behind the apartments late Tuesday afternoon, it was a shock to learn it was Gonzalez, a 36-year-old mother of two daughters.
"My son was in her house playing with her daughter," said her friend and upstairs The neighbor, Leah Serrano, 27. "I thought she was in the house with the kids."
On Wednesday, Pinellas County sheriff's officials said they are investigating Gonzalez's death as a murder. Preliminary autopsy results showed that Gonzalez died as a result of upper body trauma, sheriff's officials said.
They said she and her attacker were near the retention pond when she was killed. Detectives think Gonzalez knew her attacker and that the crime was not random.
Authorities released no information about any possible suspects but said the investigation is continuing.
Gonzalez's two daughters, ages 4 and 14, were not injured during the attack and are not missing, officials said.
At 5:42 p.m. Tuesday, deputies were called to the Westminster apartments at 924 Westminster Blvd. after Gonzalez's body was found floating in the pond.
When her body was discovered Tuesday afternoon, everyone ran toward the pond, Serrano said. She didn't believe her 3-year-old son as he screamed that it was his playmate's mom in the pond.
Serrano had to see for herself and pushed by a maintenance worker trying to hold her back to see Gonzalez in the water in green shorts and her Target work shirt. A flip-flop floated several feet away.
A storyteller who always worked the phrases "back in the day" and "to make the long story short" in her tales, Gonzalez was remembered by friends as quick-witted and creative.
"This woman could paint freehand art of anything," said Angie Lincicome, owner of A Child's Choice, the Pinellas Park day care center where Gonzalez taught toddlers for eight years. "I could say would you please paint Cinderella and she'd get down to the eyelashes in details."
She loved to dance and although she was skinny, she loved food, said her childhood friend, Belinda Hubbard, who was boating with Gonzalez and her family two weekends ago.
"She was very strong and she could fight," Hubbard said. "I don't know what happened."