Hannah Graham's parents notified by police of human remains discovery
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP/NewsChannel 8) - Searchers found human remains on Saturday that could be those of a University of Virginia sophomore who has been missing since Sept. 13, police said.
Further forensic tests are needed to confirm whether the remains are those of Hannah Graham, but Graham's parents were notified of the preliminary findings, Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy Longo told a news conference.
The Albemarle County Police Department also said a volunteer search for Graham that had been planned for Sunday has been canceled so law enforcement can turn their attention to the new evidence.
Longo said a search team from the Chesterfield County Sheriff's Office found the remains about noon on an abandoned property along Old Lynchburg Road in southern Albemarle County - the same region where police found the body of 20-year-old Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington three months after she vanished in 2009.
After arresting the suspect in Graham's disappearance, police said they found a "forensic link" between the two cases.
Thousands of volunteers had searched for the 18-year-old Graham in the weeks since her disappearance.
"Countless hours, thousands of hours, have been spent by literally hundreds of law enforcement, civilian volunteers in an effort to find Hannah," Long said. "We think perhaps today proved their worth."
Jesse Leroy Matthew Jr., 32, has been charged with abduction with intent to defile Graham. A preliminary hearing is set for Dec. 4 on the charge. In the meantime, Matthew is being held in the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail.
Albermarle County Police are now taking over the investigation. County Police Chief Steve Sellers said anyone who may have seen suspicious activity in the area or may have seen someone who fits Matthew's description in the area after Graham's disappearance, should contact police.
"Today's discovery is a significant development and we have a great deal of work ahead of us," Sellers said. "We cannot and we will not jump to any conclusions regarding today's discovery, so I ask for the public's patience as we move forward and pursue what is now a new ongoing death investigation."
A week after Graham went missing, Longo publicly described Matthew in detail without naming him, saying investigators wanted to talk to the "person of interest" and had searched his apartment because he was the last person to see her.
Matthew showed up at police headquarters, asked for a lawyer, and then sped away, according to a police account. His exit prompted a warrant for "reckless driving," a charge that Longo cited as he named the suspect and appealed for information from anyone who saw him with Graham the night she disappeared.
Matthew was arrested a few days later in Galveston, Texas.
While Matthew was a fugitive in Texas, Virginia police added a charge of abduction with intent to defile, a violent felony that under Virginia law compels suspects to submit to DNA testing.
Very quickly thereafter, Virginia State Police announced a "forensic link" to Harrington's killing. That case, in turn, has been linked by DNA evidence since 2012 to the rape of a woman in Fairfax who survived after a passer-by startled her attacker, the FBI has said.
Following his arrest, Christopher Newport University released a statement noting that Matthew was named in a police file involving a Sept. 7, 2003 sexual assault on the Newport News campus. Matthew was a student there from January 2003 through Oct. 15, 2003.
Matthew had transferred to CNU after three years at Liberty University, where he also was briefly on the football team.
When he was at Liberty University, he was accused of raping a student on campus. That charge was dropped when the person declined to move forward with prosecution, Lynchburg Commonwealth's Attorney Michael Doucette said.