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Missing woman's body found in Cook Township

| Sunday, March 15, 2015, 6:14 p.m.
Laura Wilkinson
Laura Wilkinson

A St. Vincent College adjunct chemistry professor whose body was found Sunday morning in a wooded area off Route 711 south of Ligonier was remembered by one of her colleagues as a person liked by everyone – faculty and students.

The Westmoreland County Coroner's Office listed the death of Laura Riddle Wilkinson, 36, of Hempfield as suspicious.

Volunteer searchers discovered Wilkinson's body at 8:12 a.m. Sunday off Caven Road in Cook Township, a short distance from a field where her vehicle was found Saturday, according to the coroner's office. She had been missing since Wednesday.

She was pronounced dead at the scene at 9:48 a.m. by Deputy Coroner John A. Ackerman. The cause and manner of Wilkinson's death are pending an autopsy, which was scheduled for Sunday by Dr. Cyril H. Wecht and Pathology Associates. Toxicology results will not be available for several weeks, the coroner said.

State police at Greensburg are investigating her death.

Wilkinson, a 2002 chemistry graduate of St. Vincent College in Unity, was a laboratory manager and work-study coordinator at the college. Wilkinson taught chemistry labs for the Herbert W. Boyer School of Natural Sciences, Mathematics and Computing, where she had worked for approximately 10 years, the college said in a statement.

“We are sending our prayers and offering any assistance we can to her husband, Jay, and to their family,” Brother Norman Hipps, O.S.B., president of St. Vincent College, said in a statement.

One of Wilkinson's colleagues, Matthew A. Fisher, an associate professor of chemistry, said Wilkinson was a “central part of the chemistry lab.”

“She was not just a supervisor of our work-study students; she was a mentor and friend,” Fisher said.

Wilkinson had been an AmeriCorps worker in 2003, testing the water quality and gathering chemical data on the Monastery Run Improvement Project at the college, according to a Tribune-Review story published in August 2003. Wilkinson also helped with the educational part of the project by preparing lesson plans for teachers and guiding tours. Wilkinson told the Tribune-Review that she was able to see some insects, fish and birds able to live around Loyalhanna Creek again in areas where mine residue had once been dumped directly into the creek.

Campus ministers and counseling staff are available to members of the campus community, as are residence life staff, the college said.

Funeral arrangements are under the direction of Kepple-Graft Funeral Home in Greensburg.

Joe Napsha and Mary Pickels are staff writers for Trib Total Media.

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