NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — A retired Navy veteran who did construction work at the Blimpie where 19-year-old Ashanti Billie worked has been charged with her murder, in addition to her kidnapping.
In a release Wednesday, detectives with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s Homicide Unit said they signed a warrant for murder against 45-year-old Eric Brian Brown. He is currently in custody in Norfolk, where detectives say he will be served the warrant.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office says Brown is also accused of abducting Billie when she arrived for work at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story back in September.
Brown had his first court appearance Wednesday evening on the abduction charge, and was appointed a public defender.
WATCH: The family of Ashanti Billie holds a news conference in Chesapeake. App users can see the full video at this link.
Billie’s parents addressed members of the media Thursday morning in Chesapeake. Her mother, Brandy Billie, said that they were glad Brown had been caught and was off the streets.
Brandy and Meltony Billie both expressed concerns about the safety the community and security on the base, in light of their daughter’s death.
“We still have a lot of answers that we’re looking for. We’re concerned. We’re concerned for the safety on the naval base here. We’re concerned for the safety in the community. If this was allowed to occur on a naval base, it can happen anywhere,” Brandy Billie said.
Navy spokesperson Beth Baker said Brown had a valid ID card that granted him access to the base, and that no unusual or suspicious behavior was ever reported to base authorities. She said he may have been able to blend in with thousands of others with access to JEB, and activities outlined in court documents — showering, watching television, and doing laundry — were not considered unusual.
“We’re all very thankful the FBI has made the arrest in the absolutely tragic death,” Baker said.
WAVY News left a message Thursday for the manager of the Blimpie on base.
Meltony Billie said his daughter worked on the base because she had a medical condition preventing her from joining the military. This was her way of giving back to service members, he said.
On Thursday, DeVona Brown Alleyne released a statement from the family of Eric Brian Brown:
Along with multiple communities along the East Coast, we, the Brown family, are deeply saddened at the tragic loss of Ms. Ashanti Billie’s life. We cannot imagine the impact her death has on those lovingly connected to her. Although we are shaken by the recent arrest made, our immediate concern is for those who knew and loved Ms. Billie, and we pray for them to be supported in every way possible. No amount of insight that we could provide would take back the pain they are currently feeling and will likely experience in days, months and years to come. Respectfully, we will offer no additional comment regarding these devastating events.
Video released by the FBI showed Billie driving onto the base through Gate 3 early in the morning on Sept. 18. Later that day, her car was seen on video leaving Gate 1, but the FBI said it was unclear who was driving it.
Billie’s car was found in Norfolk on Sept. 23. Inside, agents recovered her pants, which had dirt on them, consistent with being removed while outside and on the ground, according to court documents. The undercarriage of her car also contained dirt and debris, documents state.
Billie’s body was found several days later behind a church in Charlotte, North Carolina, only a few hundred yards from Brown’s childhood home.
Brown worked as a day laborer, helping to build the brand new Blimpie’s sub shop where Billie worked on base at Little Creek. Coworkers reportedly told the FBI that Brown would visit the Blimpie’s almost every day, and that he attempted to flirt with Ashanti on several occasions, even making crude sexual comments.
Investigators reviewed Brown’s cell phone use. They say it showed usage every day between September 1 to September 29, except on Sept. 18, the day Billie disappeared.
During an interview with agents on Oct. 27, Brown told them he was on Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek the night of Sept. 17, but blacked out and doesn’t remember anything he did for several days. When asked about Billie’s disappearance, he reportedly told them he didn’t know if he did anything to her.
The criminal complaint says the browser history on Brown’s phone showed numerous searches for Norfolk news, including “Norfolk police looking for man in connection with homicide,” “JEB Little Creek Blimpies,” “amber alert sept 2017,” among others.
FBI agents interviewed a confidential witness Oct. 2, who stated that Brown told him he hates African American women because they are “gold diggers” and “only want guys with all the money.”
Brown is charged with kidnapping and faces up to life in prison if convicted.
A family spokesperson released this statement on behalf of Ashanti Billie’s parents Wednesday afternoon, after the announcement of the arrest in the case:
The entire Billie family would like to extend their deepest thanks and gratitude to the FBI, Virginia Beach and Norfolk Police Departments and NCIS for their attention and investigations regarding their daughter, Ashanti Billie, Additionally they would like to extend their heartfelt thanks to all that helped and came forward with tips. At the current time the family needs time to process the information but will be making a public statement soon. Thank you. #justiceforashanti #theashantifoundation
The 19-year-old moved to Virginia Beach in August to attend the Art Institute of Virginia Beach in Town Center — and chase her dreams of opening her own bakery.
Her parents laid the groundwork in October for a memorial scholarship in their daughter’s name. They hope to award the first scholarship in 2018.