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Missing Montana teacher fondly remembered by North Dakota friends

Sherry Arnold

MINOT, N.D. - Sherry Whited Arnold was a person who "lit up" any room she entered and had an amazing touch with students, say those who worked with her at a Catholic high school in Minot.

The FBI says Arnold, 43, was kidnapped Jan. 7 during a run near her home in Sidney, Mont., and is dead, with nothing but one of her running shoes found. By late Monday, nine days after she disappeared, there was still no report of where her body might be, or even if it's in Montana or North Dakota.

The longtime teacher was beloved in her hometown of Sidney, where she taught for 18 years, as well as in Tioga, N.D., and Minot, where she previously taught, say those who knew her. One of her stepdaughters, who attends UND's School of Medicine and Health Sciences, and the rest of her family are grieving with the Sidney community over the news.

Two men, Lester Vann Waters Jr., 47, and Michael Keith Spell, 22, both from Parachute, Colo., were arrested last week. They remain in jail in Williston, N.D., awaiting extradition to Sidney, 45 miles away on the other side of the North Dakota line, on charges of aggravated kidnapping. The crime carries a maximum penalty of death under Montana law.

Both men have criminal records.

Great with kids

Arnold taught math first in Tioga one year, then two years -- from the fall of 1992 to the spring of 1994 -- at Bishop Ryan High School in Minot, said Pat Schultz.

Now living in Bismarck, Schultz worked in the Ryan school office at the time.

"She would come in and help me with computer work," Schultz said Monday. "We went to ballgames together. She spent a lot of time at our house. She was single and we had a family. We were together a lot."

Schultz kept in touch with Arnold over the years, and Arnold often would come and stay with her in Bismarck.

"She was amazing with the kids, but she was like that with everybody," Schultz said. "She had such a big heart. She was always fun. She had a sense of when you needed her for serious things, but she was always fun and upbeat. She always took the time. She was one of those loyal, really wonderful people. I feel privileged to be able to be friends with her over the years. I've been really lucky and blessed."

Great teacher

Pat McNally, principal and athletic director at Bishop Ryan, said Arnold taught math and coached volleyball.

"She was a pretty doggone good teacher and an even better person," McNally said. "When she came in the room, it lit up. She had that smile and presence. Everybody in the room just thought things were better."

Joyce Anderson, now retired, was a home economics teacher at Bishop Ryan when Arnold was there.

"She was an excellent teacher, very through," Anderson said. "She made learning fun. She was a teacher who had a heart. She understood the students and could reach them. She was a fine young lady."

Anderson, too, kept in touch with her old friend.

"I heard from her at Christmas," Anderson said. "She sent a picture of her family. We'd only see each other on occasion, but we'd keep track of each other."

Family keeps quiet

Sherry Whited grew up on a ranch near Sidney and attended Dickinson State University. Her husband, Gary Arnold, grew up near Richardton, N.D., east of Dickinson. They have five children combined from prior marriages, two still living at home.

The Arnolds worked for the Sidney school.

Karen Arnold Truax, a stepdaughter of Sherry Arnold, told the Billings Gazette the family was seeking some privacy to deal with it all.

"We appreciate everything that everyone did to help us in this search," she said. "We are so heartbroken that this is the outcome. We just sincerely appreciate all the love and support that continues to come from the community."

Oil boom blamed

The story of Arnold's reported kidnapping and death has been picked up by media outlets from London to New York to Los Angeles.

The law enforcement center in Williston has been inundated, said Williams County Sheriff's Deputy Cindy Gergen on Monday. "It's huge," she said. "I can't tell you how many phone calls we've been getting."

The teacher's death is the most dramatic violent crime on the Oil Patch since the boom began four years ago, attracting a mostly-male work force from all over the country. And it's making people talk.

Christine Mullen, 26, was one of hundreds who searched for Arnold in the first days. She told CNN the community of 5,200 is "completely shocked" at the horrible crime.

"We're such a small community, and crime is absolutely unheard of," Mullen said. "We don't lock our car doors."

Sidney's mayor, Brett Smelser, blamed the effect of the boom in the Oil Patch, which he said has contributed to marked increases in violent crime in the region.

So far, there's been no indication what jobs Waters and Spell held, if any.

But the population attracted by the boom in the busiest oil play in North America has changed life, Smelser told ABCNews. "We own the day," he said. "They own the night. Unfortunately, Sherry was running in the early hours of the morning."