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Semester in Review: Hannah Graham Disappearance

The Sept. 13 disappearance of second-year College student Hannah Graham led to a long investigation by the Charlottesville Police Department and the eventual tragic discovery and identification of her body on Oct. 24. Albemarle County resident Jesse Matthew was arrested in relation to the disappearance on Sept. 24 with charges of abduction with intent to defile. 

Charlottesville Police were first notified of the disappearance Sept. 14 when friends and family called saying they had not heard from Graham since 1:20 a.m. on the morning of Sept. 13.

After the disappearance, the Second Year Council and Student Council jointly held a vigil in the amphitheater titled “Bring Hannah Home” Sept. 19, which was attended by thousands of University and Charlottesville community members. The Second Year Council and Student Council also organized the distribution of orange ribbons to thousands of attendees at the Sept. 28 football game to support the “Hope for Hannah” cause.

The Second Year Council also painted Beta Bridge with the words “Bring Hannah Home,” which remained painted across the bridge until the Second Year Council repainted it at the request of Graham’s friends Nov. 6.

Community members contributed to the search for clues regarding Graham’s disappearance through a community search of more than 1,200 volunteers. According to Detective Sergeant Jim Mooney, police also had spoken with between 50 and 75 eyewitnesses and had received over 900 tips as of Sept. 21.

In investigating Graham’s whereabouts the night of Sept. 12 and the morning of Sept. 13, the police determined Graham had gone to dinner with friends on the Corner before heading to GrandMarc apartments on 15th Street. Around 11 p.m., Graham left her friends to proceed to two other locations on 14th Street. After leaving the second location, she headed north on 10th Street. She was then seen on video footage outside McGrady’s Irish Pub and Shell’s gas station on Preston Avenue. Eyewitnesses confirmed seeing Graham moving southward toward the Downtown Mall, where video surveillance cameras saw her walking past Sal’s Pizza and Tuel’s Jewelers.

After examining video surveillance tapes and interviewing those who had been in contact with Graham that night, the state police issued search warrants for Matthew's car and Hessian Hills apartment Sept. 19. After the searches, Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy Longo said there was a person of interest in the investigation, but did not name Matthew.

After voluntarily visiting the Charlottesville Police Department and requesting to speak with a lawyer, Matthew was observed fleeing Albemarle County at high speeds. State police then issued two arrest warrants on charges of reckless driving.

At a press conference Sept. 23, Longo announced the addition of the abduction with intent to defile charge to the existing charges against Matthew on his arrest warrant. The next day, Longo confirmed at a press conference Matthew was arrested in Galveston, Texas, after a citizen called the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office to report a suspicious person who had set up a tent on a beach on Bolivar Peninsula. Matthew was escorted in police custody to the Charlottesville-Albemarle regional jail.

Then, Sept. 29, the Virginia State Police confirmed a forensic link between the evidence found in Graham’s investigation and the death of Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington in 2009. Harrington disappeared after attending a Metallica concert on the night of Oct. 17, 2009, and her remains were found on a nearby farm in Jan. 2010.

Matthew’s forensic connection to the Harrington case also connected him to a sexual assault in Fairfax City, which landed him an indictment by a grand jury in Fairfax County on three felony charges of attempted murder, abduction and forcible sexual penetration with an object. Fairfax County Commonwealth Attorney Ray Morrogh said Matthew’s charges in Charlottesville and Albemarle County were not addressed in handling his charges in Fairfax County.

A search team from the Chesterfield County Sheriff’s Office found human remains on an abandoned property on Old Lynchburg Road near Walnut Creek Park on Oct. 18, which were identified as Graham’s by a medical examiner a week later. Albemarle County Police confirmed the death as a result of homicidal violence on Nov. 18.

Matthew’s court date in Charlottesville was originally scheduled for Oct. 2, but was then rescheduled to Dec. 4. The court date was rescheduled again to Mar. 26, when Matthew will face a Charlottesville General District Court Judge under the charges of reckless driving and abduction with intent to defile. No charges for homicide have been filed against Matthew, nor have any charges been brought in the Harrington investigation.

Following the identification of Graham’s remains, the Second Year Council and Student Council established a memorial on Oct. 26 at the Whispering Wall to commemorate Graham’s life. The memorial included a chair made out of skis in which Graham, who was a member of the Virginia Alpine Ski and Snowboarding Team, was once photographed and a wall on which passersby wrote memories and personal messages in chalk.