CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WAVY/AP) – 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.
At a press conference Saturday evening, Longo said human remains were found on an abandoned property in southern Albemarle County, along Old Lynchburg Road. Shortly afterwards, Longo said a call was made to the parents of Hannah Graham.
The Medical Examiner’s Office in Richmond will conduct an autopsy to determine the identity of the body and the cause of death, Albemarle County Police Chief Steven Sellers said at the press conference.
“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.”
The UVa. student has been missing since the early morning of Sept. 13. The suspect in the case, Jesse L. Matthew Jr., was arrested in Texas on Sept. 24 and charged with abduction and intent to defile Hannah 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.
Thousands of volunteers have searched for the 18-year-old girl, 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.”
10 On Your Side’s Andy Fox reported information from a source close to the investigation that the remains were found in a shallow grave. The source said investigators took K-9 units to the site and got a hit.
The site is believed to be in the general area where Matthew lived six years ago. His residence was on Ponderosa Trail, which is connected to Old Lynchburg Road.
The source said the body is believed to be that of a woman.
Virginia State Police have said Matthew’s arrest provided a “forensic link” to the 2009 unsolved murder of Morgan Harrington, a 20-year-old who also went missing from Charlottesville.
Surveillance videos captured some of what Graham did the night she vanished. Authorities say she met friends at a restaurant for dinner Sept. 12 before stopping by two parties at off-campus housing units. She left the second party alone and eventually texted a friend saying she was lost, authorities said.
She can be seen walking unsteadily and even running at times, past a pub and a service station and then onto a seven-block pedestrian strip that includes the Tempo Restaurant.
Tempo Restaurant owner Brice Cunningham has said Graham appeared to be incapacitated as she walked away with Matthew. Police have said they have no reason to believe she and Matthew knew each other before their encounter.
Matthew, an operating room technician at the university’s hospital who sometimes drives a taxi, had been drinking at the bar earlier that night before he encountered Graham, Cunningham has said.
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, Virginia, who survived after a passer-by startled her attacker, the FBI has said.
Following Matthew’s arrest, Christopher Newport University released a statement noting that he had been 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.