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The victim, described as a white man in his early 40s, had not been identified, but investigators said he appears to be a squatter who was living in a tent at an unauthorized campsite near the Burro trailhead in the White River National Forest.
Summit County Sheriff's Capt. Jaime FitzSimons said it's not unusual for people working seasonal jobs in Breckenridge to camp in the woods rather than renting housing in town. Other squatters camps were found in the area, he said.
At a Sunday afternoon news briefing, FitzSimons declined to discuss details of the investigation, including how long the man appeared to be have been dead and if there were any visible signs of trauma.
FitzSimons asked the public to help identify the man, whose body was found midday Saturday by a volunteer picking up litter as part of a town cleanup campaign.
"We really need the public to step forward and help us try to identify the victim," FitzSimons said. "I'm sure there are lots of people in town that know the people who live in the woods. I mean, it's a small community here, and people get to know who the seasonal campers are in the woods. So, we're really hoping the public comes forward and helps with that."
FitzSimons said the body remained in the woods until Sunday afternoon -- more than 24 hours after it was discovered – as sheriff and Colorado Bureau of Investigation investigators painstakingly processed the crime scene. Coroner's officials removed the body about 4:30 p.m., 7NEWS reporter Jaclyn Allen reported from the scene.
The body, found about 200 feet from a tent containing the man's belongings, was concealed in woods about 100 yards south of the trailhead, within sight of Breckenridge's QuickSilver Super6 chairlift.
FitzSimons said he doesn't think the community should be alarmed.
"It appears to be an isolated incident," he said. "Breckenridge is a really safe place, safe community. Lots of people come here to recreate, to enjoy skiing, hiking, camping. This is an isolated incident."
Yet, the killing has people on edge in the close-knit mountain town.
"It's a very safe community. I've never felt threatened ever in my life," said resident Nicole Trombetta, who until now had slept with her doors unlocked.
"It's just really scary knowing there is someone here who could potentially harm my friends and my family," Trombetta said. "My roommates went out last night and I was saying, 'Call me, I don't want you walking around. It's just scary that there's someone out there or could be someone out there."
Residents said they heard rumors that the man was beaten to death with a bat – or that there multiple victims.
Tyler Byfield said he was hiking in the woods a few weeks back and saw a tent that may have belonged to the victim.
"I thought somebody squatting out there was just trying to avoid taxes and avoid paying rent," Byfield said. "I didn't ever think there was going to be a murder out of it."
"They're going to try to catch him, and I hope they do," Byfield said of the killer.
The coroner is expected to conduct an autopsy early in the week.
Anyone with information about the identity of the victim as well as any potential witnesses or suspects is asked to contact sheriff's Detective Jared Dennis at 970-423-8907 or JaredD@co.summit.co.us.