LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — 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.
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.
"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..." Ajanel 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 smart and determined to succeed, but she didn't call attention to herself.
"She didn't dress up a lot," Ajanel said. "But she was dressed up on Tuesday and I didn't say anything to her. I thought she looked really cute and I feel guilty now for not saying anything."
Hoover chimed in, describing Guardado as a beautiful young woman.
Photos of her at vigils Monday and Tuesday showed a smiling girl with long, dark hair and enchanting eyes.
One was propped up next to a statue of the Virgin Mary near the altar at St. Edward Catholic Church. Another was in the hands of one of Guardado's younger sisters, who sobbed into her father's arm as people prayed the rosary.
Guardado's mother, Leonor Garcia, clung two of the daughters she has left.
She cried and shook as students read Psalm 46 in English, then in Spanish, Tuesday at the university.
"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble," the students read. "Therefore we will not fear even though the earth be moved."
Candlelight reflected tears on the faces of dozens of people huddled behind her.
They paused for a moment of silence.
Follow Jeannie Nuss at http://twitter.com/jeannienuss