LUCEDALE, MS (WLOX) - It was back to normal in the small quiet town of Lucedale on Tuesday evening. Residents were relived that suspected kidnapper and rapist Stephen Howell was off the streets.
Howell's body was found in a motel room in Hattiesburg, Mississippi on Monday, two days after the search for him began.
"I was surprised. I was wondering who it was because we know most of the people on main street, we just didn't know him," said Lucedale Resident Susan Carter.
The Lucedale Police Department had been searching for Howell since Saturday night. He was wanted for allegedly tying up a woman, taking her to a local motel and sexually assaulting her several times.
"You don't see stuff like that all the time, but when happens you are like, oh my Lord," said business owner Craig Albert.
Police Chief Barry Lambert agreed.
"My first thought was we need to apprehend him as soon as possible because it stirs such a disturbance with the community, and also our victim. I know she is probably feeling more at ease that even due to the situation, that the suspect has been located," said Chief Lambert.
An autopsy was scheduled for Tuesday in Jackson to determine how Howell died. Details from the report should help investigators fill in the blanks about how he ended up dead in a Hattiesburg motel.
Chief Lambert added, "Right now, we are trying to rule out if it's an apparent suicide, or if it a death by natural causes. Family members informed me that he did have previous heart condition."
As the community collectively breathes a sigh of relief, the investigation continues. According to the George County Sheriff's Department, Howell had previously been indicted in 2013 on a multi-count indictment of sexual battery on a child under the age of 14. He was reportedly out on bond at the time of the kidnapping incident.