The death of an elderly Bluffton woman found in her home Monday afternoon was ruled a homicide Tuesday by the Beaufort County Coroner's Office.
Though an autopsy was completed for Polly Ann Mitchell, 70, of 168 Buck Island Road, coroner and police officials would not release a cause or time of death, citing the ongoing investigation.
"The case is very sensitive right now," Deputy Coroner David Ott said.
No suspects have been identified, but Capt. Joseph Manning of the Bluffton Police Department said he hoped forensic evidence would narrow the search.
"We've got some very good investigators, and they're not going to go down a rabbit hole," Manning said.
Police have also been comparing notes with the Charleston County Sheriff's Office on the case of a missing 77-year-old woman from Hollywood, S.C., south of Charleston. A car belonging to the woman, Julia Mudgett, was found Monday afternoon in Ridgeland, Manning said.
He said investigators are trying to determine if the cases are linked but declined to comment further. Mitchell, the Bluffton woman, was found dead in her home by a relative before 3 p.m. Monday, according to the police department.
Johnnie Brown, another relative, said he also saw the body. She appeared to have been strangled, he said.
Relatives and neighbors remained outside the Buck Island Road home into the night Monday as police investigated the scene, which indicated a struggle took place, Manning said.
The group shared memories of Mitchell, who they called a pillar of the community, and watched as officers ducked under caution tape to reach the same porch kids use for cover on rainy days while waiting for the school bus.
On Tuesday afternoon, the porch had only one occupant, granddaughter Monique Bryant, who has lived in the home with Mitchell since she was born.
The Limestone College junior and her father were talking about Mitchell and how proud she was of her first grandchild on the path to a college degree when Bryant got the call about her grandmother's death.
"She was just the sweetest soul you ever met in your life," Bryant said. "I'm just going have to push even harder now (in school)."
Friends and family plan to gather on Mitchell's lawn Thursday night for a candlelight ceremony and discuss safety in the community.
Johnnie Brown's sister, Sharon, who lives across from Mitchell's home, said crime had not been a problem on Buck Island Road, but residents must do more to look out for each other after Monday's senseless violence.
"When one falls, we all fall," Sharon Brown, 55, said. "Her death will not be in vain."
She said Mitchell will be especially missed at Campbell Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, where she could be found wearing all white and her usher's pin nearly every Sunday. She also advised the youth ushers, said Agnes Kannick, 72, who grew up with Mitchell and volunteered with her at church.
"She just loved to serve," Kannick said. "And you know she loved people."
Shontelle Black, 40, said the community won't be same without her great-aunt. She was part of a generation that raised the neighborhood's children together and taught them to do the same, Black said.
"This animal took her life," Black said. "I never thought in a million years -- not here, not on Buck Island Road.
Follow reporter Rebecca Lurye on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Rebecca.