Two South American research scientists were identified as the homicide victims discovered after a Kansas City apartment fire was put out over the weekend, according to Missouri authorities, which had not announced any arrests in the case by Tuesday.
Camila Behrensen, 24, of Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Pablo Guzmán Palma, 25, of Santiago, Chile, were declared dead at the scene early Saturday, “suffering from apparent trauma” unrelated to the blaze when firefighters found them around 5 a.m., a police spokeswoman told the Kansas City Star. Both were predoctoral graduate students at the Stowers Institute for Medical Research, a biomedical research center in Kansas City.
The Stowers Institute said in a statement that the community was “devastated” by the loss, adding: “Our deepest sympathies are with their families. During this difficult time, and most importantly, out of respect to the two families, we want to honor and remember the joy, optimism, and exceptional work these two individuals embodied and all that they have accomplished.”
A statement from the Stowers Institute community. pic.twitter.com/ncmtdZXx0e
— Stowers Institute (@ScienceStowers) October 4, 2022
Behrensen, an Isaac Asimov lover with a penchant for middle-distance running, was described as “a brilliant young woman with a vibrant intellect” by colleagues and faculty at the Stowers Institute. She spent two years studying metabolic changes in fruit flies, according to a Stowers Institute biography, and had been “looking forward to living on her own in a different country” when she joined the organization’s 2020 class of researchers.
Palma, “a gentle soul,” earned his bachelor of science and post-bachelor’s degrees in biochemistry at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, the institute said. His research was focused on nervous system development and organization, with one previous project centered around spinal cord regeneration.
A cause of death had not been released by authorities as of Tuesday night.
Hours earlier, Kansas City police made an appeal for help from residents in the area who might have recorded the events of Saturday morning or the previous night on their home security cameras. Police released few immediate details but offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.
In a movie-like twist, detectives also obtained a search warrant pertaining to an Alexa device—the Amazon virtual assistant—found in the apartment on Saturday. In a warrant application, an investigator supplied that detectives believed “the suspect spent a considerable amount of time” at the site before the bodies were found, “based on physical evidence at the scene.”
“Detectives further believe there may have been verbal communication between the two victims and the suspect during the commission of the homicides,” the investigator added, according to the Star. The warrant was granted Sunday.
“It’s pretty crazy stuff,” a neighbor remarked to KMBC-TV on Monday, adding that Behrensen and Palma had seemed “just normal.”