The program director of the Victoria, Texas, office of the state's Child Protective Services had said she was scared about threats she had received only days before her body was found in a field in a rural part of the southeastern Texas county.
Victoria County employees discovered the body of 53-year-old Sally Blackwell off a paved county road on Wednesday while investigating an unrelated report of trash dumping.
Blackwell was last heard from on Monday evening. When she didn't show up for her Tuesday morning appointments, her co-workers called the police to report her missing.
"It's obviously a very sad day for the folks who have worked with her for years and years," said Patrick Crimmins, spokesman for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.
The Victoria County Sheriff's Department is investigating Blackwell's death as a homicide.
"The theory is that the homicide took place in the city, but the body was taken out [of the city] for disposal," said Capt. Richard Kincaid, who is managing the investigation.
Autopsy results were expected in Austin today.
Crimmins described a recent incident last week when "a couple of individuals" with a current pending case paid a visit to the Victoria office of Child Protective Services. Blackwell was in a meeting, and one of her assistants spoke to the visitors in the reception area, Crimmins said. The individuals apparently "raised their voices" but left before security was called.
"That is the incident that is being talked about. That is the only one that we at the agency know that happened," Crimmins said.
But Tina Taulbee, Blackwell's stepdaughter, told The Associated Press that her stepmother had told her about threats she had received, and that they had affected her.
"In the 15 or 16 years she has been there, this is the first time she was actually scared," Taulbee said.
Kincaid said there were several "persons of interest" in the ongoing investigation.
"Any time you take children away from people, people are not happy," Kincaid said. "There are potentially other issues."
Threats Not Uncommon for Social Workers
Employees of Texas Child Protective Services "investigate reports of possible abuse and neglect of children, and, if necessary, place children in foster care." According to an agency statement, "new and current employees receive training about workplace violence, dealing with difficult or hostile clients, visiting clients in the home, and personal security."
"The nature of the work is such that threats are not uncommon," Crimmins said. "You are personally investigating, knocking on doors, and trying to find out if cases of child abuse and child neglect can be confirmed. It is a very high-stress job."
Crimmins said that incidents of violence against staffers were "very rare" and that the agency did not keep records of past incidents.
The agency has said that it is now reviewing security at the Victoria office.
"In my 20 years at the Sheriff's Department, I cannot recall when someone was taken out of their home, murdered, and taken outside of the city," Kincaid said. "This is very unusual."