ST. GEORGE'S, Grenada (AP) — A machete-wielding man attacked a U.S. tourist couple as they walked along an isolated beach on Grenada, killing the woman, police on the Caribbean island said Tuesday.
Jessica Lewis Colker, 39, of Atlanta, was found dead after her husband ran to get help following the attack, which occurred around noon Sunday on a remote stretch of coast along the island's southeast, said Sylvan McIntyre, an assistant superintendent with the Royal Grenada Police Force.
A suspect was in custody but has not been identified.
Colker graduated from Tabb High School in York County in 1994, the school division confirmed Tuesday.
Colker and her husband, Brian Van Melito, had arrived on Grenada a day before the assault and were staying at a hotel near where the attack occurred in an area of beach and mangrove in St. David Parish, McIntrye said.
They had walked from the more popular La Sagesse beach at the time to a more remote spot. "It is an area where you can go off for a moment of privacy and seclusion," he said.
The motive for the attack was unknown. The husband told the police that he fought with the man, managed to get away and call for help. Police and residents of the area launched a search and found Colker's body about an hour later in the woods. An autopsy found she died of extensive skull fracture and asphyxia.
Kristin McManus, of York County, graduated in the Tabb High School class of 1994 with Colker. She said the two met in middle school, but became friends in high school. McManus said she found out that Colker had been killed while watching Fox news Tuesday morning.
"I was in complete shock," McManus said. "It's incomprehensible how she could be on the first day of vacation in a foreign country and meet the worst person in the world on a beach that took her life."
McManus said that during high school Colker was a genuinely kind person who was always welcoming to new students at the school. The two lost contact after high school, but McManus said it appeared that Colker was living a good life. She said when she learned Colker worked in the medical field, it seemed like a perfect fit for the person she knew in high school.
"She absolutely was a person who wanted to do for others," McManus said. "She always wanted to make sure she had time for other people. She put people first, before herself…you couldn't ask for a better friend."
La Sagesse Hotel, where the couple had been staying, is secluded. A comment on the travel website TripAdvisor from March 10, 2015, when the hotel was called the La Sagesse Nature Center, warns of robbers on the beach: "We were robbed of all our cash today by a man wearing a mask and wielding a machete" in the daytime.
Mike Meranski, one of the hotel's owners, denied that any of his guests had been robbed on the beach. "We have not had to deal with such an incident before until Sunday," he said. "Things might have happened to other guests or people but not ours."
McIntyre said the suspect was cooperating with the investigation but he declined to provide any information about the man, who can't be identified under local laws unless he is formally charged.
Colker worked as a physician's assistant at a children's hospital in metro Atlanta. Van Melito is a physician. The couple, who met at a dance workshop in Costa Rica, married in November 2014, according to an online wedding album.
"Jessica was a valued member of our Children's team," Children's Healthcare of Atlanta said in a statement. "We are deeply saddened by this horrific news. Our thoughts and prayers go out to her family during this very difficult time."
Daily Press reporters Jane Hammond and Ashley K. Speed and Associated Press writers Ben Fox in Miami and Jeff Martin in Atlanta contributed to this report.