(RICHMOND, Va.) — Remains found nearly a week ago in a rural area of Virginia are those of a university student who disappeared last month, authorities said Friday, ending a search that left the campus and community on edge.
University of Virginia sophomore Hannah Graham, 18, disappeared Sept. 13 after a night out with friends. Her remains were found Oct. 18 about 12 miles from campus, in a heavily wooded area of Albemarle County that is home to rolling hills and horse farms.
The man Graham was last seen with, 32-year-old Jesse Leroy Matthew Jr., has been charged with abduction with intent to defile Graham. His attorney, Jim Camblos, said in a voicemail greeting that he is not answering questions about the case.
The remains were discovered roughly 6 miles from where the body of 20-year-old Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington was found after she vanished in 2009. Police have said forensic evidence connects Matthew to Harrington’s killing, which in turn is linked by DNA to a 2005 sexual assault in northern Virginia. Matthew has been charged in the 2005 case.
“When we started this journey together we all hoped for a happier ending. Sadly that was not to be,” Graham’s parents, John and Sue Graham, said in a statement provided by the Albemarle County Police Department. “We are devastated by the loss of our beautiful daughter. … Although we have lost our precious Hannah, the light she radiated can never be extinguished.”
Graham’s parents also thanked those involved with the investigation and search efforts, as well as those who have sent messages of support. They said they don’t intend to make further statements or comment on the ongoing criminal investigation.
Albemarle County Commonwealth’s Attorney Denise Lunsford said in a statement that the focus of the investigation now is to determine “what charges will be brought and the appropriate time to make those charges.”
“We are working diligently with local law enforcement on the investigation to ensure that we make the best determination for our community and the Grahams in the pursuit of justice,” Lunsford said.
Graham met friends at a restaurant for dinner Sept. 12 before stopping by two off-campus parties. She left the second party alone and eventually texted a friend saying she was lost, authorities said.
In surveillance video, she can be seen walking unsteadily and even running at times, past a pub and a service station and then onto a seven-block strip of bars, restaurants and shops.
Matthew was an operating room technician at the university’s hospital. He was also a former college football lineman and sometimes cab driver.
Friends have said they were shocked the “gentle giant” — he’s 6-foot-2 and weighs 270 pounds — could be suspected of such violence.
Matthew was co-captain of his high school football team and enrolled in psychology at evangelist Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, where he played on the defensive line for the Flames.
His college career took a sharp wrong turn in his junior year, when a fellow student accused Matthew of raping her. Matthew withdrew from Liberty on Oct. 17, 2002 — hours after a reported sexual assault behind the university’s sports arena. Prosecutors said the case was dropped when the woman declined to press charges.
Matthew returned to school in January 2003, enrolling at Christopher Newport University in southeast Virginia. He joined their football team that August, but on Sept. 7, 2003, a fellow student accused him of sexual assault on the Newport News campus. Five days after the attack, Matthew dropped off the team roster; a month later, he was gone.
University spokesman Bruce Bronstein said the matter “was thoroughly investigated by University Police.”
“No physical injuries were reported. The victim chose not to proceed with a criminal prosecution.”
The victim in the 2005 rape in the Washington, D.C., suburbs is cooperating with authorities, Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ray Morrogh has said. According to police, a 26-year-old woman was walking home from the grocery store about 10 p.m. on a Saturday night when she was grabbed from behind, dragged into a wooded area behind some townhomes, and sexually assaulted. The man fled the area when he was startled by a passerby.