A retired teacher who died in suspicious circumstances after burglars broke into her home in north Belfast was about to become a grandmother for the first time.
Police are hunting two men following the death of May Stevens (64).
Mrs Stevens and her husband were in their Lismoyne Park home when it was entered between 1.30am and 2am on Sunday.
A number of items were taken along with her red Hyundai i30 car, registration NRZ 3370, which was abandoned by two men at 6.45am in Glenbank Place, Ballysillan.
Police traced the car to Mrs Stevens' home where officers attended and found her dead.
Detective Chief Inspector Peter Montgomery from the PSNI's Serious Crime Branch called the death a "sickening incident" and appealed directly to the two men to examine their consciences and hand themselves in.
He said police were investigating a possible link between this and two other attempted burglaries in the early hours of Sunday morning, one of which was also in Lismoyne Park.
After 10 years as a maths teacher at Belfast Boys' Model School, Mrs Stevens spent most of her career in further education at Belfast Metropolitan College before recently retiring from the Northern Regional College.
DUP MLA for North Belfast William Humphrey was a former pupil at the Boys' Model where Mrs Stevens had been his hockey coach.
"I knew her to be a very well respected and popular member of staff at the school with her pupils," he said. "She was always very kind, decent and courteous to me when I was there."
Mr Humphrey said the death was especially concerning following a number of recent break-ins at the homes of older people in Northern Ireland.
"It would appear on this occasion what's happened is that the shock and fright has cost May Stevens her life.
"A family have now lost their mother and a child soon to be born won't ever meet their grandmother."
He continued: "I think that we all have to be vigilant and look out for those older members in our community.
"Anyone with information should pass that on to the police to help them catch these people and remove them from society.
"My sympathies are with her and the family at this sad time."
Boys' Model principal Alan Logan had kept in touch with Mrs Stevens after she left the school 30 years ago.
"She was a wonderful teacher and a wonderful colleague," he recalled.
"Our thoughts are with her husband and daughters at this sad time. She was a very talented, excellent maths teacher who was head of maths at the school at one time
"She was a great character and had a great personality and she kept in touch from time to time."
Vincent Taggart, vice-principal of teaching and learning at Northern Regional College, said he was "deeply shocked and saddened to learn of the tragic death of our esteemed colleague and friend".
Describing her as "a much respected and valued member of staff", he added: "Our thoughts are with her family and friends at this distressing time."
Speaking from the scene yesterday, where a police cordon remained in place in the residential area, DCI Montgomery issued an appeal for information. He explained that police had observed Mrs Stevens' car driving on the North Circular Road in the early hours of Sunday before moving through Ballysillan Road and Ballysillan Park towards Hightown Road.
Two men were later seen walking away from the car at Glenbank Place at 6.45am, proceeding on foot towards Crumlin Road.
In the meantime, police had found Mrs Stevens dead at home.
"She was a mother of two children and was looking forward to becoming a grandparent for the first time," said Mr Montgomery.
"If you are the individuals who entered May's house, I'm also appealing to you directly to come forward, having examined your conscience.
"Come forward and speak to my detectives at Musgrave."
He added that Mrs Stevens' husband had been upstairs sleeping at the time the house was entered. "I don't know how many people entered the house but what I do know is that two males abandoned the car in Glenbank Place," he said. "What I find particularly callous in this case is that they took time to lock that car up and walk away."
He assured other residents in the area that the PSNI took the issue of crime against older people "extremely seriously".
"We understand the affect that burglary can have on its victims and want to reassure the community that we are undertaking thorough and robust investigations into these crimes," he said.
Speaking earlier, one neighbour said she was in disbelief at news of Mrs Stevens' death.
"Nothing like this has happened before here, but I'm aware of break-ins in the area as well as car thefts," she said.
"The police told me there was a serious incident at the top of the park and they weren't at liberty to divulge anything. I knew it was serious because I'd never seen that level of activity here before."
Police have appealed for anyone with information to contact detectives at Musgrave Street station on 101, ext 17019.