EGG HARBOR CITY - A gunshot wound, not blunt-force trauma, killed a mother of two who was found dead behind her apartment complex over the weekend, authorities said Monday, as police searched for her killer.

The body of 29-year-old Deanna Downs, a resident of the Harbor City Apartments, was discovered by a neighbor who was walking to his mailbox, Atlantic County Prosecutor Ted Housel said Monday evening. The Prosecutor's Major Crimes Unit responded shortly after midnight Sunday.

She was pronounced dead at the scene, and investigators initially believed she had been shot to death.

After a preliminary autopsy performed Sunday, the county medical examiner suspected that Downs had died of blunt-force trauma, but authorities were reluctant to classify Downs' death as a homicide.

But following an in-depth examination Monday by the medical examiner's office, authorities said the cause of death was a gunshot wound.

"The further forensic examination causes me to conclude that this was a shooting homicide," Housel said.

Friends and family of Deanna Downs remembered her as "a beautiful person" Monday.

"I don't understand who would want her dead. Especially like that," said her stepmother Jackie Johnson, of Egg Harbor Township.

The day after her death, friends and family gathered at her Egg Harbor City apartment, still stunned by how the woman they cared for met such a sudden, violent death.

Downs left behind two sons, Kyle, 8 and Keith, 10, said her sister Krystal Hoffman, 21, of Egg Harbor Township. She also had three brothers, Hoffman said.

"Everybody loved Deanna around here," said Johnson, 41. She said Downs, who lived for years in Egg Harbor City, was very friendly and very outgoing. She knew her neighbors and regularly talked with them, Johnson said, and was not afraid of expressing her opinion.

Keith Garcia, Downs' former boyfriend and the father of her children, said Downs was a good person. Their relationship didn't work out, said Garcia, 29, of Galloway Township, but they remained on good terms for their children even as they both started dating other people.

Lesley Young-Kell, a friend who hadn't seen Downs in several years, remembered the victim as "a very sweet girl, quiet and always smiling."

Downs was friendly to everyone she encountered, but mostly stayed to herself, Young-Kell said. But she and Downs did share some good laughs in their younger days, Young-Kell said.

"I don't understand how anyone would want to hurt her," she said.

Friends and family of Downs held an impromptu candlelight vigil on Sunday night outside the Harbor City Apartments on Atlantic Avenue in Egg Harbor City, Hoffman said. She said the turnout was a tribute to how much Downs was loved.

"It was crazy," Hoffman said. "There were so many people here."

A resident in the apartment complex found Downs as he walked to the mailbox behind buildings J and K, and the Prosecutor's Office Major Crimes Unit responded at 12:14 a.m.

The office said Downs lived in the G building.

"You look at everybody and think..." Johnson said.

"Did you kill my sister?" Hoffman said, finishing Johnson's sentence.

"Somebody had to have seen something," Johnson said.

Anyone with information on Downs' death can call the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office at 609-909-7800, or Crime Stoppers at 609-652-1234 or 800-658-8477. Tipsters also can provide information online at www.acpo.org/tips.html or www.crimestoppersatlantic.com

Contact Derek Harper:

609-272-7046

Contact Elaine Rose:

609-272-7215

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