Though the Andover woman at first appeared to have died in a Friday motorcycle crash, police soon became suspicious; friends and family are shocked.
The young woman's body in the middle of the road and the crashed motorcycle nearby seemed to tell a simple story.
Somehow, it appeared, Natasha Waalen had lost control of the motorcycle she was driving on a quiet Andover street, leaving the 28-year-old mother dead before a passerby discovered her body early Friday morning.
It was likely an unfortunate accident, police said.
But something set them on alert. Waalen's injuries -- wounds that investigators still won't describe -- soon led them to believe this was more than a traffic crash. "Multiple factors," reported a news release issued Saturday, "are not consistent with a motor vehicle accident.''
Less than 24 hours after Waalen died, her longtime boyfriend and the father of her 4-year-old daughter was behind bars, suspected of killing her.
Late Saturday afternoon, investigators painstakingly scoured the area in the 16800 block of Tulip Street NW. for clues leading to just what happened on that darkened road before Waalen's body was found there around 12:30 a.m. Friday.
Friends and family were shocked by the arrest.
"It's hard to accept is about the only thing I can say," said Natasha Waalen's father, Jeff. "It would be easier for me to believe something else than thinking it was the guy she had known for 10 years."
On Friday Jeff Waalen had said that he suspected that a man who had recently threatened to kill his daughter over a potential lawsuit might be the culprit, and that if investigators were after Natasha Waalen's boyfriend, "they're barking up the wrong tree."
But Friday night, the 33-year-old suspect was booked into the Anoka County Jail on probable cause of first-degree murder. A charging decision is expected early next week by the Anoka County Attorney's office.
Natasha Waalen, a graduate of Anoka High School, was an acupuncturist who received her master's degree in the field three years ago at Northwestern Health Sciences University in Bloomington. She also worked at Achieve Services Inc., a training agency for adults with disabilities. She was an avid motorcyclist, her father said.
Jeff Waalen said his daughter and the suspect fought occasionally, but that he never feared for her safety.
"I know my daughter told me everything that happened to her, and she never told me anything like that," he said.
Neighbors tell a slightly different story.
In the four years since the couple bought the tidy ranch-style home in Anoka, they were known for doting on their rambunctious 4-year-old daughter.
But underneath there was tension, they say. The girl's father abruptly moved out of the house a few months back, returning only on occasion. Even then, it seemed both made a point never to be at the house at the same time.
"There's lots of love, you could see, between the parents and the child, but between one another, you didn't see that," said Cliff Haugen, who lived across the street. "For whatever reason, it was a relationship of cross purposes."
But there didn't appear to be signs of violence.
"I hope they got the wrong person, to be honest with you," said Gary Anderson, who lives next door to Haugen. "To be honest with you, I hope they made a mistake, because I can't believe he did that."
Valorie Burke, who lived on the other side of the couple, said it's inconceivable that even the "small hints of discord" she saw, mostly through notable absences of one parent whenever the other was home, could lead to such tragedy.
"You always see those eyewitness accounts on the news, about how people say they never thought something like this could happen," she said. "It gets to the point where it's cliche, but when it hits home, it's all you can say."
For now, Jeff Waalen said, those close to Natasha Waalen are working to plan her funeral. There's no doubt, he said, that his daughter will be missed.
"I'd say she accomplished what someone should accomplish in her life," Waalen said. "Except for getting old."
Abby Simons • 612-673-4921