A missing Minneapolis woman was found dead Tuesday evening in the backyard of a vacant home on the city's North Side.
Relatives identified her as Amber Hopkins, just hours after passersby spotted her body under a pile of debris.
Hopkins, 31, was five weeks pregnant when she disappeared Jan. 14. Loved ones say she was struggling with heroin addiction at the time and was thought to be squatting inside some abandoned homes in north Minneapolis. Her mother filed a missing persons report after she failed to contact immediate family members and could not be reached on her phone.
"It's a vicious world out there," said her aunt, Jaime Brown. "And it spits some people out."
Distinctive tattoos — including feathers, her children's names and footprints — helped identify her, Brown said. She leaves behind four young children, who live with their father in Mexico.
Officers responded to the area of N. 36th and Dupont avenues just before 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, where they found her body along the rear fence.
"We're treating this as a crime scene," said police spokesman John Elder. He did not know if her body had any signs of trauma.
Jeff Kemper was painting a home across the alley when a man ran up yelling that he'd found a body. Kemper said he went to investigate and called 911 after finding the woman curled up beneath piles of debris, wood and leaves. Snow had melted all around the body and he fears she may have been there — unnoticed — for some time.
"They we're trying to cover it up, whoever did it," he said. "It sure didn't look like she was taking a nap."
Kemper couldn't see the woman's face, but said she was clothed, wearing a jacket and high black boots.
It remains unclear how she died. Relatives are expected to meet with authorities on Wednesday.
"I don't know how anybody could be so cruel, to just leave her like that," her aunt said. "She had the biggest heart. We're devastated."
Hopkins was a member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate tribe.
At dusk, investigators could be seen photographing her body up against the backyard fence, behind an abandoned two-story house with several broken and boarded-up windows. Neighbors say it's remained empty for months, after its previous tenants were evicted.
Fred Aboge, a landlord who manages a nearby building, said the neighborhood has improved in recent years. But this "is a reminder of what it can be."
The Hennepin County medical examiner will release Hopkins' cause of death after performing an autopsy.
Anyone with information is asked to call CrimeStoppers of Minnesota at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or submit a tip electronically at www.CrimeStoppersMN.org. Information leading to an arrest might be eligible for a financial reward.