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Police probe Va. news reporter's death as homicide

Wednesday - 7/11/2012, 1:25am  ET

UPPERVILLE, Va. (AP) - Authorities said Tuesday they are investigating the death of a northern Virginia newspaper reporter in a house fire as a homicide.

Sarah L. Greenhalgh, a reporter for The Winchester Star, was found dead in her burning home on Monday. Authorities in Fauquier County said they are awaiting autopsy results to determine a cause of death.

Sheriff's Lt. James Hartman refused to say how Greenhalgh died or what led authorities to believe she was killed.

"We have preliminary autopsy results, but nothing we can release without jeopardizing the case," Hartman said.

The 48-year-old Greenhalgh was found dead in her Upperville home Monday after an off-duty firefighter saw smoke coming from the cinderblock home and called 911. Greenhalgh had rented the home on a farm about 60 miles west of Washington, D.C., for about a year and lived alone.

Greenhalgh had covered Frederick County government for The Winchester Star since August, said Managing Editor Maria Hileman.

Hileman said Greenhalgh was an accurate and fair reporter and that she couldn't think of any of her stories that would have made her a target.

Hileman called Greenhalgh "a bright spot in the room."

"She really had sort of a very effervescent personality. When she came into the room, you knew that Sarah was in the room," Hileman said. "She was very friendly and lively."

Hileman said the loss was tough for the close-knit staff of nearly 30. Police talked to the staff and went through Greenhalgh's desk, Hileman said.

Greenhalgh had worked the weekend before covering a strong storm that swept through the state and then took a few days off. Hileman said she last saw her on Friday.

"It really seems strange without her here," she said.

Greenhalgh had worked at other local papers in Fauquier County and had covered local equestrian sports, especially steeplechase racing, as a freelance writer for The Chronicle of the Horse and other publications for than 20 years.

Hartman said Greenhalgh was well known in Fauquier County and in equestrian circles and was active on Facebook. Police are reaching out to those communities in their search for clues.

People in that circle who knew Greenhalgh were stunned by her death.

"People are still just sort of shocked and trying to figure out why," said Tracy McKenna, advertising manager for The Equiery, an equine-interest magazine in Maryland.

Beth Rasin, editor of The Chronicle of the Horse in Middleburg, Va., just a few miles from Greenhalgh's home, said: "It's hard to think something like that could happen in this area. It's a pretty safe place to live."

Both women remembered Greenhalgh fondly.

"She was a super-super nice, happy, upbeat, outgoing, friendly person," Rasin said. "She had a lot of friends and was a very loyal friend. I can't imagine anyone would have a bad word to say about her."

McKenna said that once you became Greenhalgh's friend "she always had your back."

She also shared a June, 2009 post from Greenhalgh's Facebook page:

"I have been very lucky in my life to have done so many of the things most people have on their list, like seeing many of the great works of art in person, riding in a supersonic jet and in a bi-plane, hiking an active volcano, rafting in the Grand Canyon, seeing Carnival in Venice, hiking pyramids in Mexico, falling deeply in love (helplessly and unconditionally), eating some strange things and going on an African Safari by vehicle (and walking)."

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