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Students, community members step forward to help with Graham search

More than 1,000 volunteers spend weekend seeking evidence

More than 1,200 volunteers spent the weekend searching Charlottesville for missing second-year College student Hannah Graham. The Blue Ridge Mountain Rescue Group and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management organized the search in conjunction with the Charlottesville and Albemarle police departments.

Virginia’s search and rescue officials addressed the crowd of community volunteers during a briefing at John Paul Jones Arena Friday evening. There, volunteers were assigned a shift on either Saturday or Sunday to begin searching at 8 a.m. Volunteers were grouped and bussed to locations throughout the city.

“This is about one thing and one thing only, and that is finding Hannah,” Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy Longo said. “Don’t ever lose sight of that until that young lady comes home.”

Brian Moran, Virginia secretary of public safety, said state and local governments are working together to find evidence that might help police in their search for Graham.

“We are working together as a community, as a very special college community and as a very special commonwealth,” Moran said Friday. “We are very hopeful that tomorrow’s search will find Hannah. ... I want to assure you that the state government is working in coordination with the local [police forces].”

Mark Eggeman, chair of the State Search and Rescue Coordination Council, explained which areas had already been searched and outlined the plan for continuing the effort. Eggeman told volunteers the search had been in full force since last Monday evening, using canine groups, aircraft, rescue boats, and tips from the community.

Eggeman credited the community response with the latest progress in the search.

“You should be proud of yourselves,” he said.

Each volunteer group was assigned an area to carefully inspect for any physical items that could help shed light on the investigation.

“Hannah was wearing a midriff top, sequined, glittery, with black mesh, and black, capri pants, somewhat tight-fitting,” he said. “She also had on white shoes and was carrying an iPhone 5s with a pink cover.”

Eggeman said he planned to search almost every mile in Charlottesville and planned to cover 85 percent of the city by the end of the day Sunday.

“We’re going to be searching areas of the city that have not yet been searched or where previous searches have not been as good as they could have been,” he said.

Gil Harrington, mother of Morgan Harrington, who went missing in 2009, and Trina Murphy, aunt of Alexis Murphy, who disappeared last year, also spoke to the volunteers at JPJ.

“It’s very heartwarming to see all of you,” Murphy said. “I think back to a year ago when so many people came out to search for Alexis. … It’s humbling. We have to find Hannah. It’s not an option not to.”

Greenbrier Elementary School teacher Andrew MacDanel and his wife, Heather, said they were motivated to volunteer by their desire to give back to their community.

“If it was my daughter, I would want everyone out there looking, so I need to do my part,” Heather MacDanel said.

Third-year Continuing and Professional Studies student Landon Wilkins agreed.

“I have a six-year-old,” Wilkins said. “And if he went missing I would want everyone out of their house and looking.”

Third-year College student Avery Bailey said University students seem to be more cautious in light of recent events.

“It was just an awful thing to happen,” he said. “I think right now people are on their guard. … My friends have stopped walking alone at night.”

Charlottesville resident Candace Widmer recalled her experience in the search effort when Morgan Harrington disappeared.

“It took much longer to put together a search [that time],” Widmer said. “I remember how frustrated the search and rescue people were. [By the time of the search], so much evidence was washed away or pushed away. … They just had so much they wanted to do and they couldn’t.”

Widmer said the Charlottesville community has learned from the Harrington experience.

“Morgan was seen as a college girl at a concert, out for a good time,” she said, adding the community has learned that when someone goes missing, “it’s the real deal.”