ROSENBERG, Texas – The woman whose body was found inside a burning home in Rosenberg late Saturday night was identified Monday morning.
The fire was reported just after 10 p.m. in the 5100 block of Cotter Lane.
A criminal investigation was started after circumstances surrounding the scene of the blaze appeared suspicious, police said.
“I was so scared. There was just so much smoke on the street. You couldn’t really see anything," neighbor Celia Garcia said. "There was smoke and flame everywhere."
Friends said Nancy Marie Dean was a brilliant engineering student who graduated from Texas Tech, worked at Hewlett-Packard, and then went on to become an automation specialist at BD Payne and Associates in Stafford.
Described as smart and independent, she had recently bought her home on Cotter Lane in Rosenberg and was working to fix it up.
"She was remodeling, renovating. She was always out in the driveway, constantly working, fixing, you know, fixing it up," neighbor Wendy Gonzales said.
But late Saturday night, a fire broke out and firefighters arrived to find Dean's burned body inside. Based on suspicious findings at the scene, police believe Dean was actually murdered -- her new home set ablaze and her body burned by the killer to hide evidence of the crime.
"It's just evil. It's just pure evil. It's hard to believe someone could do that. She didn't do anything to anybody. Why would someone do that to her?" neighbor Tommy Gonzales said.
Channel 2 Investigates has learned that police have interviewed a person of interest in connection to the murder.
"Yes sir, they questioned him for about four or five hours," Valentine Gonzales, a relative of the person of interest, said.
Gonzales, 78, lives just down the block from Dean's house and said a member of his family was questioned by the police about the crime, but the family member has not been arrested.
He said his relative was working, cutting grass near the victim's home, the day that Dean was murdered.
"They want to know that he was there. He told them, 'Yes, I was there cutting grass.' That's all. But it was around 5 o'clock in the afternoon." Gonzales said. "I don't know at which house he was cutting grass. I'm not going to say it was that house. I don't know which house. The police never told me."
Friends came to her home after the fire to secure the house and protect it from vandals. Neighbors are left to grieve over the sweet, hardworking woman who lived down the street -- a woman they all wish they had gotten to know better before it was too late.
"It's heartbreaking for me. I can't imagine what it's been like for her mother and her dad," Wendy Gonzales said.
Neighbors said Dean, 32, was a single woman who lived in the home with her two dogs.
Anyone with information about the incident can call Rosenberg police at 832-595-3700.