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Two weeks later, questions linger in death of woman found in river

Two weeks later, questions linger in death of woman found in river
Connie Barta€™s body was found in the Zumbro River behind the Mayo Civic Center in downtown Rochester on Oct. 30.

As investigators continue looking for answers about Connie Barta's death two weeks ago, a more detailed portrait of the 45-year-old's life has emerged.

Friends characterize her as kind and caring, but they say she also faced serious personal struggles and had her "ups and downs."

Two weeks ago, the Rochester woman was found dead in the Zumbro River near downtown.

The question remains: How did she die?

The answer, which may be simply the best guess available based on medical findings and police evidence, could come after a meeting between police investigators and Dr. Anja Roden, Olmsted County's interim medical examiner, in a week or two.

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Barta's funeral was held Tuesday at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in Montgomery, and burial will be scheduled for a later date.

Barta, who grew up in Montgomery, was born July 22, 1966, in New Prague. Her father, Ben Barta, who died in 2010, led a polka group called the Ben Barta Band that often performed in that area.

In 1985, she graduated from Montgomery-Lonsdale High School. In Facebook postings, former classmates remembered Barta as a dedicated member of the cross country team who was kind, caring, and loved to laugh.

Exactly where Barta lived in the years immediately after her high school graduation isn't clear. She listed a Rochester address in phone books between 2003 to 2011.

A manager at the northwest Rochester apartment complex where Barta lived from 2005 to 2011 remembered Barta as caring and kind, often bringing candy to rental office employees.

In September 2010, Barta worked for less than a week as a contracted paper carrier for the Post-Bulletin.

A friend of Barta's, 51-year-old Bobbie Mitchell, of Rochester, said he met her online about a year ago.

Mitchell said he helped Barta with her laundry and with cleaning her apartment. He said he also took her to get groceries, sometimes from the Channel One food shelf.

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"She told me she was on a lot of medication that made her tired all the time and she was always in an angry mood," said Mitchell, who is a customer service worker at Hy-Vee. "To me, she had her ups and downs."

Mitchell said Barta received Social Security financial assistance. Barta's brother Steve Barta of Minneapolis said his sister possibly suffered from schizophrenia.

Liked to swim

Winters said Barta had "an extensive medical history," but declined to elaborate. He added that investigators have found no evidence that Barta was employed at the time of her death.

About two months before she died, Barta moved from her northwest Rochester apartment to the Civic Inn in downtown Rochester, Mitchell said.

"She said she wanted to be closer to town," he said.

Mitchell said he went to Barta's apartment on Sept. 24 to get some clothes to wash for her.

He said he saw her again on Oct. 24, about a week before her death, when she sat in the lobby at the Salvation Army, filling out a form on a clipboard. In the past, Mitchell said, Barta went to the Salvation Army to seek vouchers for thrift store furniture and clothing.

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For Mitchell, a puzzling part of Barta's death was that she was found in a river. She swam laps, he said, and as far as he knew, she was a strong swimmer.

Barta's obituary also notes that she liked to swim. Her mother could not be reached for comment.

Investigation continues

Meanwhile, the meeting to try to determine the cause of death for Barta could be a week or two away, depending when final toxicology reports come back, according to Rochester police Lt. Dan Muyres.

"We'd share what we know, and she'd share what she knows, and then come up with a likely cause of death or an official one to put on the certificate," Muyres said.

From the start of the investigation, police have said it does not appear that foul play had a role in Barta's death. There were no signs of trauma to her body, police noted, and there were no obvious signs of criminal activity in the area where she was found in the water behind the Mayo Civic Center.

"Quite frankly, it's on the coroner's office as to what the ruling is as to suicide or accidental," police Capt. Brian Winters said this week.

Roden did not give a timeline for when she will determine a cause of death.

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To make a determination of accidental death or suicide, investigators need to consider "the totality of the circumstances," Muyres said.

Focus on time of death

Accounts from witnesses who saw Barta in the hours before her death have helped narrow the length of time she was in the water to approximately six hours, Winters said. He declined to say where witnesses saw Barta on the evening of Oct. 29 and the early morning hours of Oct. 30.

Barta's body was found in the river at 9:15 a.m. on Oct. 30, putting her likely time of entry at 3 a.m. or so, according to the updated police timeline. At first, police had estimated she had been in the river for as long as 12 hours.

A pedestrian bridge crosses the water near where Barta was found. The spot is near a bend in the Zumbro River at its confluence with Bear Creek from the south.

A photo taken by a witness at the scene during the investigation shows authorities removing Barta's body on the west side of the Zumbro River where a pedestrian bridge crosses to the east side of the river.

The same witness said Barta was wearing denim pants, running shoes, a black jacket, and a pink hooded sweatshirt when she was pulled from the water. Temperatures were in the 40s during the time Barta was in the river.

Barta likely entered the water fewer than 100 yards from where her body was found by an Olmsted County dive team during a routine Sunday morning practice, Winters said.

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