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Death of woman called a homicide

The Citrus County Sheriff's Office is investigating the death of a woman found at the water's edge of the Cross Florida Barge Canal Saturday morning as a homicide, after receiving preliminary autopsy results, a spokeswoman said.

Investigators have identified the woman through her fingerprints, said Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Gail Tierney. However, they were not releasing her name until they could notify her family, which they were trying to do Sunday.

Tierney said only that the woman is from a county neighboring Citrus and is in her early 20s. A news release described her as black, with close-cropped hair and a rough, circular tattoo resembling a half-moon and stars on the back of her left shoulder.

The Sheriff's Office also is not releasing the autopsy results or a cause of death, but said the Medical Examiner's report does suggest foul play.

"I can tell you that we do have preliminary information from the autopsy, but detectives feel it's crucial to the investigation, and they are not at a point where they want to release it," Tierney said.

The death would be Citrus County's first homicide this year, though detectives have not determined whether the woman was killed somewhere else and brought to the barge canal. Deputies with the Sheriff's Office marine unit and dive team searched the canal's bottom Sunday in the area near where the body was found.

Fishermen discovered the woman unclothed around 6:40 a.m. Saturday on the southern bank of the canal, a couple of hundred yards west of the U.S. 19 overpass and a public boat ramp. The Crystal River Marine Enforcement office of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission also is located near the boat ramp and overpass.

The autopsy indicated that the woman probably died 12 hours or less before she was discovered. Detectives said there were no obvious signs of the cause of death, according to one release.

Investigators had not found the woman's clothes in the area where her body was found, or any other items they could connect to her death, by Sunday afternoon, Tierney said. Asked if an apparent search by dive team or marine unit deputies meant they were looking for a discarded weapon, Tierney said: "I think at this point they're looking for anything that would connect her to the area."

Neither Citrus nor Levy county officials had a missing person report for the woman or anyone fitting her description. A dispatcher for the Levy County Sheriff's Office said her agency was not involved in the investigation and referred questions back to Citrus County.

The barge canal divides Citrus and Levy counties.

Tierney could not say whether a fingerprint match meant the woman had a criminal record. Nor could she say whether detectives believe the woman's body was abandoned on the shore or was discarded from a boat or someplace upstream and floated to where it was found. She also didn't know whether the body was discovered by fishermen on a boat or on the shore.

Tree-covered bluffs overlook the canal where the woman was discovered, and several dirt trails used by fishermen lead to the water. Deputies were conducting their investigation Sunday from a base at the bottom of one of those trails.

Anyone with information about the case is urged to call 911 locally, or (352) 746-2555, and leave a message for detectives Ken Perez or Dave Fields.