LAKE TAPAWINGO, Mo. – People in Lake Tapawingo are heartbroken after learning one of their former neighbors was killed in Central America.
Authorities in Belize found the body of Sherris Stringham on Saturday; the Blue Springs native had been missing from the coastal town of Hopkins for a week.
“It wasn’t the answer we wanted, but when she was found it brought a little bit of relief,” said Elizabeth Welch, who lived across the street from Stringham in Lake Tapawingo for 25 years.
Stringham retired to Belize, about a year ago, after decades of working as a bus driver and grocery store cashier in the metro.
“She posted something every week, climbing waterfalls, picking bananas or at a BBQ and learning how to make Belizean potato salad,” Welch said. “She was having a blast.”
Police believe a group of teens were trying to break into 67-year-old’s rental home. When she confronted them, they reportedly hit her in the head with a blunt object, ransacked her home, stole her vehicle and dumped her body under a bridge.
“Sounds like there was an altercation, so it made me feel like she wasn’t scared because she was fighting,” Welch said. “She was always a fighter.”
Mike Thompson lived next door to Stringham in Lake Tapawingo for 22 years. He was hesitant about her moving out of the country.
“She was very excited to go, and I tried not to dim that excitement, but I told her I didn’t want her to,” Thompson recalled.
He said her death is a huge loss for their small private community.
“I still look for her,” Thompson said. “I have been since she’s been gone, thinking I’m going to walk out there and she’s going to be piddling in that yard.”
Stringham’s neighbors said she loved working in her garden and was quite the character.
“She was the friendliest, most opened person I’ve ever met,” Welch said. “She had a different kind of spirit and was just full of love and joy.”
“She could do just about anything she put her mind to,” Thompson added.
They’re planning to plant a flowering tree near the entrance of Lake Tapawingo as a tribute to the woman they said was always a ray of sunshine.
“It’s a terrible tragedy for us all but we got to experience her for a long time and that will never go away, our memories,” Welch said.
As of Saturday, police in Belize were questioning four teens they believe are connected to Stringham’s death.
Her son and daughter are flying to the country this week to bring their mother’s body back to the metro. The family is planning a celebration of life for Stringham in the coming weeks.