Image: Family of slain student
Danny Johnston  /  AP
Leonor Garcia, center, mother of slain University of Arkansas-Little Rock student Patricia Guardado, holds her twin daughters as the student's father, Martin Guardado, looks on during a rosary service at St. Edwards Catholic Church in Little Rock, Ark., on Monday.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 10/18/2011 7:21:32 PM ET 2011-10-18T23:21:32

In a university classroom, students studying Spanish watched a film about the horrific murders of young women in Mexico. As the credits rolled, there was a knock at the door.

A police officer wanted to know: Where was Patricia Guardado?

With the violent images from the movie still hanging in their minds, some of those in the class at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock feared the worst about the bright college sophomore. Their worries were confirmed Monday when police said Guardado's body had been found in a pond outside Little Rock.

A candlelight vigil was planned for Tuesday evening on campus, KARK television reported.

Her death has been ruled a homicide, but so far, police haven't named any suspects or released details about how the 20-year-old was killed, or even how she disappeared. Authorities wouldn't discuss whether she'd been assaulted, nor what evidence, if any, had turned up in the waters where her body was found Sunday.

Police haven't ruled out the possibility that a stranger was involved, and that has some students on the urban campus anxious about another attack. Some students said Tuesday they're looking over their shoulders as they hurry to and from class. University police say more students have been asking authorities to escort them to their cars.

Kaitlin Barger, one of the students in Guardado's Spanish class, said she was more cautious than usual after her night class Monday.

"I looked behind me. I looked on both sides of me," she said. "I had my keys in my hand, ready to stab" any potential attacker.

Guardado was last seen Wednesday morning as she left home to head to a 9 a.m. calculus class. The car she was driving was found in a parking lot behind a fast-food restaurant across from the school.

Students often park there and in other private lots. Not all of them have surveillance cameras.

University police chief Brad King said there's free parking on campus, about a 10-minute walk at most to the center of campus. But some students, in a rush to get to class, opt to park in lots like the one Guardado used.

"Half of us park across the street," said Barger, who has also left her car where Guardado's was found.

On Tuesday, when their Spanish class met again, students stared at the desk where Guardado used to sit. Barger wiped tears and makeup from her eyes with a crumpled tissue as students talked about the act of violence that seemed to have jumped from the movie to real life.

"The likelihood of it happening on campus lessens because of security," Barbara Hoover said.

Another student disagreed.

Image: Patricia Guardado
AP
Arkansas-Little Rock student Patricia Guardado.

"Who's to say this couldn't have happened on campus?" Holly Ajanel asked.

She tapped the desk next to her — the one where Guardado often sat.

"It doesn't matter where she was. It doesn't matter if it happened here on campus...," she said, her voice breaking. "Someone who is 20 years old is not here with us today."

Guardado wasn't a particularly gregarious student, her classmates said. She was bright and determined to succeed, but she didn't call attention to herself.

At home, things were different, friends of the family said after a prayer service Monday night at St. Edward Catholic Church. She was constantly in touch with her family and helped her mother, Leonor Garcia, care for her younger siblings.

"She was a second mom to her little sisters," Garcia's friend, Lee-Ann Whitlock, said Tuesday.

The Little Rock Police Department and the Pulaski County Sheriff's Office are each offering $1,000 rewards for information on the case, and Guardado's family is offering $5,000, KARK reported. Anyone who wants to donate to a reward fund can visit any Metropolitan Bank branch and deposit funds into an account set up in Guardado's name, KARK said. She had just started a job at Metropolitan Bank.

During the service, Garcia clung to her surviving two daughters as the Rev. Jason Tyler asked questions that are still unanswered.

"Why did this happen?" he asked. "How could this happen?"

Msnbc.com staff contributed to this report from The Associated Press.

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