DENVER (CBS4) – The body of a Denver elementary school teacher was discovered Friday near Gypsum and the woman’s daughter has been arrested in connection with the murder.
Penelope Sue Cunningham, of Aurora, was found 15 miles up Gypsum Creek Road at about 9 a.m. She was a nun for 20 years and a teacher at Maxwell Elementary School. The school district brought in grief counselors on Monday for students and staff.
Police tracked Penelope Cunningham’s daughter, Traci Cunningham, 29, through her cellphone to a restaurant in Lakewood on Saturday. She was arrested at gunpoint and taken back to the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office. She faced a judge on Monday and is being held on a first-degree murder charge.
CBS4 obtained Traci Cunningham’s arrest affidavit on Monday. It says the mother and daughter were heading to the Grand Junction area and decided to pull over and go for a hike. They apparently got into some kind of argument and Penelope Cunningham began to walk away from the car.
The affidavit says Traci Cunningham told police she was looking for some beef jerky and retrieved a 9 mm gun from the back of the car. She told investigators she blacked out and the next thing she knew the gun was in her hand and her mother was dead. She said she fled the area saying she hoped it was just a bad dream.
Penelope Cunningham’s neighbors were shocked to learn of her murder.
“I know that Traci has been battling mental illness for many years,” neighbor Meredith Mills said.
On the Maxwell Elementary School website, Penelope Cunningham wrote on her biography, “I am here to give my students the best fourth grade education possible. All they have to do is pay attention, participate and do their best. No lazy brains allowed!”
A spokeswoman for Denver Public Schools said the school community is deeply saddened by the news.
Years earlier, Penelope Cunningham became a mother by opening her heart.
“And then adopted Traci, and loved Traci. I mean just really was a good mom to her,” neighbor Carol Lesmann said.
Traci Cunningham had been in the Army and fractured her leg in boot camp.
“She was trying to get help from the VA, they wouldn’t help her,” Lesmann said.
Neighbors also believe Traci Cunningham suffered from being bipolar.
“So if she was unstable with her meds, if she did something, it would be something that she would do in a manic mode, out of control mode,” Lesmann said.
The District Attorney Bruce Brown said it will be another week before formal charges are filed.
“You have a case that took place over a wide geographic area, about 150 miles from Aurora to Eagle,” Brown said. “So we need to put together all the pieces and the pieces are scattered.”
The district attorney’s office says it’s still waiting for more information from both Lakewood and Aurora police. There were several search warrants on the car and the house the Cunninghams family lived in.
In court there was some indication Traci Cunningham may have tried to do something with the potential murder weapon, which could bring more charges.