Remains found nearly a week ago in a rural area of Virginia are those of a missing university student, authorities said Friday, as they turned their attention to filing possible additional charges against the suspect accused of abducting her.
University of Virginia sophomore Hannah Graham, 18, disappeared Sept. 13 after a night out with friends. The remains were found Oct. 18 about 12 miles from the Charlottesville campus, in a heavily wooded area of Albemarle County that is home to rolling hills and horse farms.
The state Medical Examiner’s office confirmed that the remains were Graham’s, the Albermarle County Police Department said in a statement Friday.
The man Graham was last seen with, 32-year-old Jesse Leroy Matthew Jr., has been charged with abduction with intent to defile Graham.
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.”
Matthew’s attorney, Jim Camblos, said in a voicemail greeting that he is not answering questions about the case.
Graham’s 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,” Graham’s parents, John and Sue Graham, said in a statement provided by the police department.
“Sadly that was not to be. … 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 thanked those involved with the investigation and search efforts — singling out Charlottesville Police Chief Tim Longo for his “tenacity and determination” — 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.
Longo, who became the public face of the investigation through his emotional pleas for the community’s help in finding Graham, did not immediately respond to a telephone call seeking comment.
Graham’s disappearance prompted many University of Virginia students to begin walking in pairs or groups at night. Also, the university expanded a ride service for its students.
“For Hannah’s young life to end so tragically, and for her destiny of promise to be left unfulfilled, is an affront to the sanctity of life and to the natural order of human events,” university President Teresa A. Sullivan said in a statement Friday evening. “This is a sorrowful day in the life of the university, and our entire community is grieving with the Graham family.”
Before the start of a men’s soccer game between Virginia and Wake Forest on Friday night, the announcer at Klockner Stadium asked everyone to observe a moment of silence to “remember a young life cut short.”
Michael Elliott, the Director of Enterprise Systems at U.Va.’s McIntire School of Commerce who helped run the replay video at the game, said workers flashed a picture of a vibrant Hannah on the screen.
Elliott and his wife, Gigi Elliot, are parents of a student who just graduated from U.Va. in May.
“It’s devastating, but at least there’s some peace knowing we found her,” Gigi Elliott said from her home in Crozet, Va., about 12 miles from Charlottesville. “It’s kind of a resolution for our community. I’m haunted by it. It’s so close to home. It’s just heartbreaking as a mother.”
Carli Sapir, a fourth-year environmental engineering student, lived only a half-block away from Hannah’s residence at U.Va.
“This conclusion wasn’t the conclusion we were hoping for,” she said. “Of course we all had a hope that even after all this time that they would find her living. It’s pretty devastating.”
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 continued to play football in college, although he dropped out of two universities following accusations of sexual assault against him. He was never charged. Officials in both cases said the alleged victims declined to press charges.
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.
O’Dell reported from Richmond, Va. Associated Press Writer Michael Felberbaum in Richmond contributed to this report.
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