Hutchinson home killing baffles police

When the doorbell rang at the Hutchinson home the evening of June 14, the neighbor had no idea what he was about to encounter at a home nearby — a 27-year-old wife and mother with two fatal gunshot wounds.

Jennifer Heckel was loved. She had an accounting degree from Wichita State University, worked as group leader in human resources at Kroger corporate offices in Hutchinson and lived in a good neighborhood. The mystery is why and how she ended up gunned down by someone while her 5-year-old son was home with her.

After the doorbell rang that evening, the neighbor recalled, he "saw this little head go by."

It was Heckel's son, playing a prank, the neighbor thought at first. But when the neighbor went outside to talk to the boy, the child said something the neighbor didn't expect to hear.

"Mommy's hurt."

Heckel's husband was working out of town, and her 5-year-old son had gone to the neighbor's to get help.

"So I followed him, and I went in the sunroom door ... turned left into the living room and turned left into the kitchen, and there she was, and I thought she had fainted or something," said the neighbor, who asked that his name not be used to protect his safety.

She was lying on her right side, her head under a table.

He reached down to try to feel a pulse, and Heckel's body was warm.

But her eyes remained open. "I knew something was bad wrong," the neighbor said.

"That's when I panicked."

He asked the boy if he had a phone. The child rummaged in his mother's purse and pulled out a cellphone, but the neighbor didn't know how to use it and told the boy to have his wife call 911. The neighbor went outside the Heckel home, in the 500 block of Coronado, and started screaming for help.

A car went by, stopped, backed up, and the neighbor asked two people inside to call 911.

Later, the neighbor said, the boy told him he had been watching television, heard his mother scream and heard a shot.

It is a challenging case for investigators, Hutchinson police Capt. Troy Hoover said Tuesday.

"It's a case in which we have a young family who on face value doesn't seem to have any issues," Hoover said.

"At this point, there's nothing to indicate to us that it's a random crime," he said, declining to elaborate.

"There really wasn't any indication of any kind of struggle," he said.

"We've got so many leads in so many different directions. At this point, we have nobody in the suspect category. We have several people that we want to talk to and have already talked to.

"We're looking at every possible motive people would have to do harm to her."

Nothing seems to have been stolen, he said.

Although no weapon has been found, investigators have recovered evidence that could help determine the caliber and type of weapon used.

Hoover declined to say where Heckel had been shot.

Her death is the first homicide of the year in Hutchinson, a city that averages two or three homicides a year.

Crimes Stoppers is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the case.

Police want to hear from anyone who saw anything in the area around Heckel's home on Coronado Drive — from around 6:30 to 7:15 p.m. Tuesday, June 14 — that could be related to the shooting, Hoover said. The area police are focusing on is from Kisiwa Parkway north to 43rd Street and east and west of Monroe Street.

The Kansas Bureau of Investigation and the Reno County Sheriff's Office are assisting Hutchinson police.

The neighbor who found Heckel said she and her husband and son had lived in the neighborhood about a year and a half.

The neighbors, including the Heckels, recently had a block party.

Heckel's maiden name was Timmermeyer. She grew up in Wichita and graduated from Wichita Heights High School.

"She was a jolly person," the neighbor said.