A 60-year-old La Plata woman was found shot to death Tuesday night in her town home, the Charles County sheriff's office said this morning.
Police have not officially released the victim's name, but law enforcement officials confirmed the woman was Gayle Cooke, the longtime victim-witness coordinator for the Charles County state's attorney's office.
A neighbor -- who did not want to give her name because she is a witness -- said she heard a gunshot in the town house next door to her own about 11:20 p.m. Tuesday. She telephoned 911 and then went upstairs to check on her two sleeping children. At that point, the neighbor said, she saw -- through an upstairs window -- a person running into the woods behind the town home development.
Cooke's daughter and two of her grandchildren were in Cooke's home at the time of the shooting, the neighbor said.
This morning, police and other law enforcement officials followed up what the county sheriff called strong leads in Cooke's death. At the same time, the struggled to cope with grief over the death of one of their own -- a woman many of them worked with daily who they described as a fierce advocate for local crime victims and a presence at the courthouse for nearly a decade.
"She's a visible part of our office, our contact with the outside world to some extent," said Matthew Stiglitz, a Charles County assistant state's attorney, who said he was mourning the loss of his "very compassionate and dedicated" co-worker.