DANVILLE — It was the news Jennifer Williams feared, but never hoped to hear.
Her longtime friend — Barbara Rose, who had been missing for more than a week — was dead, and the man she'd been living with was charged with her murder.
"Barb would never have disappeared" willingly, Williams said of the mother of five, including two daughters who lived with her.
"She was a family-oriented person, and she was especially close to her daughters," she said. "Her whole world was her daughters, and she would never have left them."
A week after her adult sons reported the 50-year-old Danville woman missing to police, Vermilion County prosecutors charged her boyfriend, Ocheil D. Keys, with her murder.
The 26-year-old Danville man was formally charged Tuesday with six counts of first-degree murder and one count of concealing a homicidal death, a Class 4 felony.
At his arraignment hearing, Keys appeared before Associate Judge Mark Goodwin from the county jail via video camera. Goodwin read the defendant the charges and assigned the public defender's office to represent him. Keys, through his attorney, pleaded not guilty to the charges.
In her request for a $5 million bond, State's Attorney Jacqueline Lacy said that through the course of a missing person's investigation, it had been revealed through witness interviews, video evidence and forensic evidence, including blood, that on or about Oct. 22, Keys shot Ms. Rose, which led to her death.
Lacy also said that in the days after Ms. Rose's death, Keys removed her body from her home and concealed it.
The prosecutor also said Keys is a convicted felon, who was sentenced to prison for separate residential burglary and burglary cases in 2009. He was out on bond and awaiting trial for a 2016 case — where he's charged with two counts of aggravated battery to a child under 13 and felony possession of a weapon — when Ms. Rose was killed.
Goodwin set Keys' bond at $5 million, meaning he would have to post $500,000 in order to be released.
If Keys is convicted of murder, he could face 20 to 60 years in prison or life, if special penalty provisions apply.
Williams said Ms. Rose was born and raised in Paris, Ill. She moved to Danville to attend community college and stayed.
"She would do anything for anybody if she could," said Williams, who met Ms. Rose when she moved to Danville 26 years ago. "She let me stay with her and helped me get on my feet.
"She introduced me to my husband of 25 years," continued Williams, who became godmother to Ms. Rose's oldest child, Tremaine. "She's helped out a lot of people over the years."
Williams said Ms. Rose lived with her two daughters — one 9 years old, the other in high school — in a house in the 1100 block of Cleveland Street, and worked in Rantoul at a job that she got through Manpower.
She said Keys also lived with Ms. Rose, which was concerning to some friends given his criminal history.
"We heard she was considering making him leave her home," Williams said. "She knew he was going to prison (for his pending case of aggravated battery to a child), and she was just waiting for him to leave."
Williams said Ms. Rose's sons reported her missing Oct. 24. However, she said, the last time her daughters saw her was the previous Saturday when they went to bed.
"He said she went missing on Sunday around 11:30 in the morning," Williams said of Keys. "He said she was on her way to buy a car from a person she had met on Buyer's Market. But the person on Buyer's Market said she never made it."
Williams, along with about 10 to 15 others, helped Ms. Rose's children search for her.
"We walked the neighborhoods, passed out flyers, knocked on doors and were following up on leads we got from talking to people or from Facebook," she said, adding their plea for help in finding her was shared more than 1,000 times. "We were actually hopeful we'd find her. A couple of people said they saw her ... but it was somebody that resembled her. When we realized it wasn't her, we started getting really worried."
Williams said she began to suspect Keys even more when he declined to help with the search.
"He was just watching us," she said. "Everyone thought it was extremely odd. He said he was just tired of being questioned by the police, and he wanted them to leave him alone."
Williams said her fears were confirmed when police searched Ms. Rose's house and took Keys into custody.
Danville Public Safety Director Larry Thomason said that as part of their investigation, detectives obtained a search warrant for Ms. Rose's home and collected sufficient evidence to take Keys into custody. He was arrested Tuesday morning.
"I'm extremely angry," Williams said. "No one has the right to take the life of another person. Now these girls are without a mother."