Brittany Clardy left her St. Paul home nearly two weeks ago and never returned. On Saturday, family and friends mourning the death of the 18-year-old were no closer to answers about what happened in the days before her body was found last week, hidden in a car for eight days in an impound lot.

"She was a wonderful young lady. Her smile lit up the room," said Todd Schwartz of St. Paul, who worked with Clardy's mother and helped the teen get a job at his wife's child care program. "It's so tragic."

Although officials haven't identified Clardy as the victim, Schwartz and Clardy's friends confirmed it Saturday. Schwartz said Clardy left her parents' St. Paul home Feb. 11 in her mother's car to go to a store. When she didn't return and calls to her cellphone went to voice mail, the family reported her disappearance.

"It ain't like Brittany to just leave; she just wasn't that kind of kid," Schwartz said. "I knew something was wrong."

Few details released

On Feb. 13, the car that her body was later found in was towed from a Brooklyn Park apartment complex to an impound lot in Columbia Heights by a company that the apartment complex contracts with to remove unauthorized vehicles. Last Thursday, eight days after the car was towed, her body was found "concealed inside the passenger compartment," according to the Anoka County Sheriff's Office, which is investigating the death along with police in Brooklyn Park, Columbia Heights and St. Paul.

On Saturday, Anoka County Detective Mike Lapham said investigators aren't releasing any more details until the medi­cal examiner's office confirms the victim's identity, a process complicated because the body was in the car outside for so long. He said they expect more details Sunday or Monday, but until then, won't release any other information, such as what condition her body was in or whose car was involved. He said only that it was clear she didn't put herself in the car.

The horrifying details of Clardy's death shocked friends and family, who had frantically posted fliers and messages on Facebook and Twitter seeking help after Clardy's disappearance.

Beth Bowman of St. Paul first heard that Clardy, her 9-year-old son's favorite teacher, was missing when she saw homemade posters hung at St. Paul's North Dale Recreation Center, where Clardy had worked for three years in an elementary child care program that Schwartz's wife, Patti, runs.

Bowman hadn't seen Clardy at the center in a few months, but said Clardy was a confident, positive role model to her son and his classmates.

"She always struck me as really happy, healthy and positive," Bowman said. "She had a warmth, but she could always manage the kids, which was a gift."

Bowman picked up her son from the program on Friday as she does every other day, but this time, staff members hugged and cried with her as news spread of Clardy's death.

"How could she be in an impound lot for eight days? I think we failed as a society. We didn't do due diligence in a search," Bowman said Saturday, weeping as she spoke. "I don't know if it would have changed the outcome, but she wouldn't have sat in an impound lot. It's disturbing."

She's bracing for how to tell her 9-year-old son about the death of his favorite teacher. "As a parent, it's an awful conversation," she said. "You don't know what to say."

"It's sad to lose a ­beautiful, young, confident, smart woman," she added.

Quintin Jackson, 20, saw the news on Twitter and on Saturday, took to social media to mourn his friend, who graduated from Highland Park High School last year.

"Every time I saw her, she had a smile," he said. "She seemed like she wanted to do something with her life."

Now family and friends like Schwartz are left to speculate about what could've happened to her in the days before her body was found. "She's going to be dearly missed," he said.

Staff writer Nicole Norfleet contributed to this report. Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141