New clues emerge in Graham case

After five days, search for missing second-year student continues

hannah_graham

Second-year College student Hannah Graham was last heard from at 1:20 a.m. Saturday morning. Footage shows she was walking along the Downtown Mall shortly after 1 a.m. Saturday morning.

As of Thursday morning, Hannah Elizabeth Graham has been missing for five days. In that time, more than 100 tips have poured in, all attempting to answer the same question: where is Hannah?

At a press conference Wednesday afternoon, police provided new details relating to Graham’s disappearance.

Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy Longo offered a statement from Hannah’s parents, John and Susan Graham. In it, they thanked friends and administrators at the University for their support.

“It is totally out of character for us not to have heard from her,” her parents said in the statement. “We fear foul play.”

University Police Chief Michael Gibson, University Dean of Students Allen Groves, Charlottesville Police Lt. Ronnie Roberts and Sergeant Detective Jim Mooney, who is leading the investigation, joined Longo at the press conference.

THE TIMELINE

Police say Graham met friends for dinner Friday on the Corner. Her next known location was at GrandMarc apartments on 15th Street, where she is seen in a video footage screenshot timestamped 9:33 p.m.

Graham remained with friends until 11 p.m., Longo said, at which time she proceeded to at least two other locations in the 14th Street area.

Students have confirmed one of these locations was The Pointe apartment complex, where Graham attended a party.

"When she left the second location, we believe that she lost her bearings," Longo said. "She was lost."

Charlottesville Police spokesperson Lt. Ronnie Roberts said an eyewitness in the area saw Graham near 14th Street around 12:15 a.m. Saturday.

From there, Longo said Graham headed north on 10th Street, and she has been identified on video surveillance at McGrady’s Irish Pub on Grady Avenue at 12:46 a.m. In the video, Graham appears confused, first walking west in front of the bar, then circling back east.

She did not enter the bar, but interacted briefly with the doorman, who police have reached out to for questioning but as of Wednesday afternoon had not interviewed. She reversed direction after passing the pub, and headed east toward Preston Avenue.

At 12:55 a.m., she is captured again on video — this time, running past the Shell gas station on Preston Avenue.

Longo said police were initially concerned that she was running, but that upon further review, they did not see anyone following her. Graham stops running in the same clip.

“It does not appear, at least at that point, that she was being pursued,” Longo said.

“Oftentimes, there are folks that will congregate under that bridge [on Preston],” he added. “It may well be that she was somewhat frightened by those [people] that might have been gathered there.”

Police confirmed an eyewitness saw Graham proceeding southbound toward the Downtown Mall. At 1:06 a.m., video outside of Sal’s Pizza on the Downtown Mall shows Graham being followed by an unidentified white male.

According to a press release, the man looks over his shoulder and steps into a doorway until Graham walks past him. After she passes he begins following her. Concurrent video from a camera at Tuel’s Jewelers across the mall shows Graham walking with the same man behind her at 1:08 a.m.

At 10:15 p.m. Wednesday, the man in the videos made contact with police, saying he followed Graham because she looked distressed and he wanted to help. After following her for some time, he said a black male came up and put his arm around Graham, stopping her from walking any further.

The witness said this interaction led him to believe this second man was either known to Graham or was trying to help her. Graham and the black male were allegedly standing together and speaking when the witness left the scene. The second male does not appear in any video footage so far, according to a Charlottesville Police press release.

At 1:20 a.m. Saturday, Graham sent a text message, which was her last known communication. The police have not confirmed the content of this text or any other text messages she sent that night.

POLICE RESPONSE

The FBI, Virginia Department of Emergency Management, Albemarle County Sheriff’s Office and National Center for Missing and Exploited Children have joined the Charlottesville Police Department to provide support for the investigation. Police have already conducted interviews with 50 individuals, Mooney said.

Helicopter and ground searches have also been conducted in the days since Graham’s disappearance. The general University area has been searched, in addition to the railroad tracks near 14th Street, Rugby Road and Grady Avenue, as well as the area near Wild Wing Cafe. Based on Tuesday’s developments, the search has expanded to include the area near Preston Avenue and the Downtown Mall.

At the press conference, police outlined plans to search farms and other large pieces of land in the area. Longo encouraged property owners in the area not to touch anything on their property which could possibly serve as evidence for the case.

The case poses a number of similarities to the 2009 disappearance of Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington, who was attending a concert at John Paul Jones arena. In 2010, her remains were found in a rural area about 10 miles away from the arena. Police have searched that area but did not find any evidence related to Graham.

Longo said police have not found any reason to link Graham's disappearance and the Harrington murder at this time.

Authorities have also conducted two bloodhound searches. The first was conducted on Sunday and “did not turn up anything useful,” according to a release from the Charlottesville Police Department. The second, conducted Tuesday, provided confirmation on Graham’s presence in the Downtown Mall area.

“We have reason to believe that she may have been under the influence of alcohol,” Longo said. “[This] suggests the fact that she was vulnerable, that she may not have been in a position to protect herself … or in a position to make good decisions.”

Longo strongly discouraged drawing any larger conclusions about Graham based on this information.

“While we have information in regard [to her alcohol consumption], we put that out there for investigative reasons, and I just find it unfortunate that folks are latching on to that and speaking poorly of this young lady’s character,” he said.

Graham sent numerous text messages on the night she went missing. In one text, Graham indicated she was near the intersection of 14th Street and Wertland — but police say she was likely not in this area when that message was sent, though have not been able to exactly pinpoint where these messages were sent from.

Longo said the messages do not indicate that Graham was scared or feeling threatened.

“One of the entries suggests to me that she wasn’t familiar with where she was, but I didn’t get a sense that there was fear,” he said.

Longo said video surveillance has been key in obtaining clues to Graham’s disappearance thus far, but that more eyewitnesses must step forward.

COMMUNITY RESPONSE

On Wednesday, students comforted each other in a student-led prayer circle. Second-year College student Sam Ganis set up a Facebook page, “Pray for Hannah,” to coordinate the event. Ganis met Graham during her first year, and they have remained friends ever since.

About 30 students attended the event on South Lawn, many of them Graham’s close friends. Some students prayed aloud, but most chose to pray silently to themselves.

Ganis echoed University President Teresa Sullivan and asked students to support each other in this time.

 "We are a community of trust and support," Ganis said. "I knew I needed support so I figured others did as well." 

Second Year Council, in conjunction with Student Council, will host a University-wide vigil Thursday at 9 p.m. More than 1,300 students have responded to the Facebook event.

“The search has been going on for a couple of days, and it’s at this point in the process that people start to lose hope,” said Student Council President Jalen Ross, a fourth-year Engineering student. “We hope to celebrate the hope of her family and friends that we are all holding out.”

The vigil will feature tributes to Graham, including some of her favorite songs and candies. Ross said the event has received incredible support from the administration and friends of the University, especially in granting last-minute requests for the event. The UVA Bookstore along with UVA Printing and Copying Services have already volunteered to donate signage.

 “[Our] goal is to celebrate the amazing person that we’re trying to find,” Ross said. 

Morgan Harrington’s parents traveled to Charlottesville Wednesday afternoon for the press conference. Gil Harrington has remained an advocate for campus safety since the murder of her daughter, focusing specifically on violence against women and girls. The Harringtons have offered support to the Graham family in light of Hannah’s disappearance.

“You do have some PTSD moments because we know the anguish her family is going through,” Harrington said. 

Harrington said the early stages of a missing persons investigation are crucial. Help Save the Next Girl, an advocacy group founded by the Harringtons, has worked to raise awareness in the Graham case and encourage the public to contact law enforcement with information relating to the case.

“We have become a resource for missing families,” Harrington said. “Some of the first things [you need] to do like become a presence in social media and [create] missing persons posters…that’s not something that a family that has just heard the news that their daughter is missing can generate.”

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