Nancy Cooper's friends hoped she'd just gotten lost.
They could even swallow her hiding, perhaps attempting to escape her American life as the wife of a Research Triangle Park business executive.
Anything but this: a young mother dead, two young girls left behind, a family buckling with grief.
"We are devastated. We have to grieve," Mike Morwick, a friend of Cooper, said after police said Tuesday evening that the body found in an unfinished subdivision Monday evening was Cooper's.
On Tuesday, police scurried about this suburban haven. They scoured a construction site where Cooper's body was found, hunting for more clues. Other officers came and went from the Coopers' home; by evening, they'd wrapped crime-scene tape around Nancy and Bradley Cooper's two-story brick house in the Lochmere subdivision. Friends lingered at a nearby church, hoping police would tell them to resume their search, that their friend was still missing.
For days, Cooper's friends and police had searched, combing woods and lakes near a route they thought she might have jogged between her home in the Lochmere subdivision and a friend's house about six miles away. Bradley Cooper told police he'd last seen his wife about 7 a.m. Saturday when she went for a run with a friend; another friend she was supposed to meet that morning reported her missing to police that afternoon.
Friends paused their search Monday after a walker spotted a woman's body east of her home, near a pool of water puddling around a storm drain. A medical examiner confirmed the body was Cooper on Tuesday.
Police said Tuesday evening that they have no suspects. They also say Cooper's death was not random, and that Cary's residents have nothing to fear.
"I am extremely confident that we will bring this case to justice," Cary Police Chief Pat Bazemore said Tuesday evening at a news conference.
Cooper's family hunched in chairs beside Bazemore, sniffling as reporters peppered the police chief for details she wouldn't offer. Time and again, they thanked Nancy Cooper's friends and police for hunting so fervently for their lost sister and daughter.
"We cannot possibly relay our thanks to volunteers who were tireless and tenacious in their efforts," said Jeff Rentz, Cooper's brother, a police officer from Edmonton, Alberta.
Bradley Cooper wasn't with them. Police had expected him to attend the news conference, but he declined at the last minute, Bazemore said.
Instead, Bradley Cooper remained at home. Police had spent the day there; Bradley Cooper had given them permission to search the family's home and cars, Bazemore said.
Reporters peppered Bazemore with questions about Bradley Cooper, asking her whether Nancy Cooper had asked him to move out and whether the couple had separated their finances.
Bazemore offered only: "We know they were having marital difficulties, and that remains a part of our investigation."
Nancy Cooper had taken a break a few weeks ago, joining her Canadian family for a vacation in Hilton Head. She returned last week, and friends noticed she hadn't felt well.
A spreading silence
Tuesday, after police confirmed she'd been killed, Cooper's friends grew silent, reluctant to speculate.
"At this point we do not want to jeopardize the investigation in any way, nor do we want the hurtful images and stories to be propagated in a way that exacerbates an already incredibly difficult situation for those of us who were so close to Nancy," Morwick said in a statement.
Police said Bradley Cooper was "devastated" when he learned his wife was dead.
Cooper's friends wrestled with how to tell their own children that Nancy had gone away.
The young son of Cooper's friend Brett Adam asked his father whether Nancy was missing.
Adam told his son she was lost.
His son replied, "Why doesn't she just turn around and come back then?"