Brittany Sue Zimmermann, 21, was found dead in her apartment near the University of Wisconsin-Madison shortly after 1 p.m. Wednesday by police called to check on the student's welfare. A preliminary examination by the Dane County coroner has ruled her death a homicide. The coroner did not say how the woman was killed, but an autopsy was scheduled for today.
Joel DeSpain, a spokesman for the Madison Police Department, told ABC News that authorities are following up on a "lot of leads" and that items have been sent from the crime scene to the state laboratory for forensics testing.
DeSpain declined to say who made the original 911 call and would not address a report that Zimmermann had been stabbed. "There's nothing we can put out there," DeSpain said.
Zimmermann's slaying is the first involving a University of Wisconsin-Madison student since 1996, but Madison police are investigating two other recent homicides that remain unsolved and could be related.
Her death is also the latest in a series of killings on or near college campuses that have left school officials around the country scrambling to find ways to tighten security.
A woman who answered the phone at Zimmermann's parents' house in Marshfield, Wis., declined to comment on the homicide investigation to ABC News.
In an interview with The Capital Times, Kevin Zimmermann, the student's father, described his daughter as a medical microbiology and immunology major with hopes of attending medical school.
His daughter, who was in her junior year, had already accumulated enough credits to graduate in the fall, Zimmermann said. She also was recently engaged to boyfriend Jordan Gonnering and the couple was planning to marry next year in Hawaii.
"As a young girl she was just so kind to everybody. She never had a bad thing to say about anybody," Zimmermann said. "She was the brightest girl and the most considerate person. She was one who was always willing to help anybody."
Brittany Sue Zimmermann lived with her fiance in the downstairs apartment of the house where her body was discovered, according to family members. Kim Heeg, an aunt, told the Wisconsin State Journal that Gonnering had called police after finding his fiance's body.
The university released a statement Wednesday night about the student's death, urging students to grieve together and raise the level of alertness on the Madison campus and throughout the college town.
"From everything I have learned about her today, she was an engaged and active student and a dedicated student employee," Lori Berquam, dean of students, said in a statement.
"An event like this is extremely unsettling," she said. "This will be a difficult time, but I can tell you that we will come together in support of each other and continue working to make our campus as safe as possible."
Police are trying to determine whether Zimmermann's slaying is connected to two other unsolved murders.
In late January, 31-year-old Joel Marino died of stab wounds from a 4-inch paring knife inside his Madison home. Police have released a person of interest description in the slaying that was tied through DNA to a murder weapon, backpack and hat.
In July, the decomposed body of 22-year-old University of Wisconsin-Whitewater student Kelly Nolan was found 10 miles south of Madison, where she had been living for the summer when she disappeared after a night of drinking June 23.
The Wisconsin slaying also comes just one month after a pair of female students were killed near the college campuses of the University of North Carolina and Auburn University.
Lauren Burk, 18, was found March 4 lying along an Alabama highway. She had been shot and was taken to a hospital, where she died. Her car was found the same night engulfed in flames in an Auburn parking lot.
Courtney Lockhart, 23, is facing kidnapping, attempted rape and capital murder charges in connection with Burk's death. He was arrested March 7.
Authorities do not believe there was any connection between Lockhart and his alleged victim. Lockhart served in the Army in Iraq, but was discharged for bad conduct in 2006.
The day after Burk was killed, Eve Carson, a 22-year-old senior and president of the University of North Carolina student body, was found fatally shot near the university's Chapel Hill, N.C., campus.
In the days after Carson was identified, police found her car parked on a street and then released surveillance stills featuring two men at a drive-through ATM and inside a convenience store where someone had attempted to use Carson's card to make a purchase.
The stills helped lead authorities to Lawrence Alvin Lovette Jr., 17, and Demario James Atwater, 21, both of whom face first-degree murder charges in Carson's death.
Lovette has also been charged with the Jan. 18 slaying of 29-year-old Abhijit Mahato, an engineering graduate student at Duke University who was found fatally shot inside his apartment near the school's Durham, N.C., campus -- just 12 miles from Chapel Hill.
Authorities have not identified any concrete connection between the suspects and victim.