Margaret Perkins's world was one that combined studies in ultraviolet light and women's football, Tolstoy and 10K runs.
It was her drive to become a space physicist that brought the 22-year-old Rice University student to the Washington area. It was perhaps her love of sports that brought her to her death Saturday night.
Perkins's body, clad only in a T-shirt and running shoes, was found about 11 a.m. Sunday near a wooded stream close to the Indian Creek hiker-biker path in Berwyn Heights.
It was discovered by members of a softball team who had gone into the underbrush to retrieve a stray ball.
Her roommate had reported her missing to police at 11 p.m. Saturday when she failed to return from an early evening run in the park, about a mile from the Westchester Towers apartments where she lived.
Maryland-National Capital Park Police who are investigating Perkins's death said yesterday that witnesses had seen her jogging in the park between 7:30 and 8:30 p.m. Police said they have no suspects and declined to release the results of an autopsy performed yesterday by the Maryland medical examiner's office. However, police sources and family members said that Perkins had been strangled.
Perkins, a senior from Houston majoring in space physics and Russian, had been working since May 14 as an intern at the Goddard Space Flight Center. She was working on a project to develop software to analyze data retrieved from an ultraviolet telescope slated for the next space shuttle, Goddard spokeswoman Randee Exler said.
Perkins's death, which police said was the first on the approximately two-mile path, left residents of Berwyn Heights, a bucolic suburban enclave of 3,000 people near the University of Maryland, shaken and fearful.
"Everybody's scared," said Debbie D'Avella, 29, sitting on the steps of the brick rambler on 58th Avenue where she has lived for three years. "Nobody wants to go out anymore. I'm ready to move."
Some neighbors who often used the path and the narrow park adjoining the creek said they would steer clear of it now.
"I take my little boy down here to ride his bike," said Dave Ferguson, 34, showing a visitor the spot that was swarming with police officers earlier in the day. "We've been through here 1,000 times. I'm not going to do it anymore."
The community of 1,000 detached homes grew from an 1888 subdivision. It is bounded by train tracks on the west, Greenbelt Road on the north, Kenilworth Avenue on the east and College Park on the south. Within its borders are vintage Victorian homes and more recent ramblers and split levels.
Many of its residents work nearby at the university, at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt and at the National Agricultural Research Center in Beltsville, according to Town Administrator Clare J. Murtha.
Berwyn Heights, she said, is known for its "small-town atmosphere," the senior citizens center, the Boys and Girls Clubs, the quilting club and men's league.
It is not a place known for criminal activity, much less murder. The last homicide, stemming from a domestic dispute, happened eight or 10 years ago, Police Chief Thomas Stoner said.
"It's quiet, quiet, quiet," Stoner said. "Thefts, vandalism, loud parties, nothing real serious. The park is very heavily patrolled by park police and by us, especially in the area where the crime occurred."
Leann Johnson lives with her husband, a University of Maryland agricultural economist, and three young children on Berwyn Road. Their house is the closest one to the jogging path, park and ballfield.
Living there, she said, is "like having a bigger yard than we actually have because the park's next door and you can take the kids for a walk. We're going to be staying in our own back yard now."