serving PCSO found dead near woodland on Tuesday was murdered, police said.
No arrests have yet been made following the death of 53-year-old Julia James, whose body was found in Akholt Wood, Kent.
The loss has shocked the tiny nearby hamlet of Snowdown, near Dover, where Ms James is believed to have lived with her husband.
Home Secretary Priti Patel expressed her “sincere condolences” to Ms James’ friends, family and colleagues.
Police officers were seen around the quiet cluster of homes on Wednesday afternoon as the investigation continued.
Not far away, by a field, a white tent could be seen with police officers standing nearby.
Officers were called shortly after 4pm on Tuesday to the Aylesham Road area of Snowdown.
The death was originally viewed as “suspicious” but Kent Police confirmed on Wednesday afternoon that it is now being treated as murder.
Local resident John Miller, 72, said: “I can’t believe it’s true to be honest, everyone feels safe round here.
“(I’m) gutted, gutted for the family and whoever it is I hope they catch them and they get put away for life.”
He knew Ms James’ family, whom he described as “very close”, and said what happened was a “hell of a loss”.
In Snowdown, a police officer was standing guard outside the home where Ms James is believed to have lived, while another officer was seen in the garden.
Police are still urging anyone with information to come forward as they investigate the death of their colleague.
Assistant Chief Constable of Kent Police Tom Richards said: “Officers are carrying out a number of lines of inquiry to establish the circumstances and people in the Snowdown area will see an increased police presence as a result.
“It saddens me to confirm that the victim was a serving PCSO for Kent Police and whilst there is a full and thorough investigation under way our thoughts also remain with her family, friends and colleagues.
“It is vitally important that anyone who was in the area on Monday and Tuesday who may have seen something suspicious gets in touch with us.
“We’re particularly keen to speak to those who regularly visit the area who may have seen something out of place and those who drove by who have dashcam footage.
“We would advise people in the area to remain vigilant until the full circumstances of the death are established.”
The hamlet of Snowdown, near Aylesham, features around 54 houses and was one of the four chief collieries of the Kent coalfield, which closed in 1987.
In a tweet on Wednesday evening, Ms Patel said: “So saddened to hear of the death of @kent_police PCSO Julia James.
“I offer my sincere condolences to Julia’s friends, family and colleagues at this awful time.”
Officers are keen to speak to anyone who was in the area on Monday and Tuesday April 26-27 who may have seen something unusual or suspicious.
They are urged to contact Kent Police on 0800 0514 526.
Anyone with video footage can submit it online https://mipp.police.uk/operation/4601020121F07-PO1