Wednesday 17 January 2018

Town's anguish over missing Hannah

Jesse Matthew is suspected of abducting British-born student Hannah Graham (AP)
Jesse Matthew is suspected of abducting British-born student Hannah Graham (AP)
Kelly Garr replenishes a bag of yellow ribbons in the Stratford Landing neighbourhood of Alexandria, where missing Hannah Graham grew up (AP)

The family and neighbours of missing British-born student Hannah Graham have adorned the streets with yellow ribbons - symbols of hope in a community devastated by the disappearance of a woman known for her intelligence, wit and dry sense of humour.

Ms Graham, 18, a second-year student at the University of Virginia, vanished on September 13, her steps recorded by grainy surveillance videos as she walked unaccompanied on the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, and its popular Downtown Mall, an open air centre of shops, bars and restaurants.

The man suspected of abducting her, Jesse Matthew, 32, was extradited to Charlottesville from Texas last night and is in custody at Charlottesville-Albermarle Regional Jail, charged with abduction with intent to defile (sexually molest) Ms Graham. He was arrested on a beach near Galveston on Wednesday.

Matthew, an operating theatre technician at the University of Virginia Medical Centre, and the last person seen with her, is expected to make his first court appearance on Thursday.

Authorities said they had probable cause to support the charge against Matthew after twice searching his apartment and gathering evidence they have not described, saying it will be ultimately presented at his trial.

A crime lab is testing clothing recovered through search warrants, but police have not said whose clothing that was.

In the meantime, police in Charlottesville have indicated that they have no idea where Ms Graham is.

In her home town of Alexandria, Ms Graham is known as smart, with broad interests and eclectic tastes in music. She moved from Britain to the US when she was about six and was determined to lose her British accent, said Craig Maniglia, her softball coach at West Potomac High School and a family friend.

Mr Maniglia described her as "witty, polite, extremely intelligent, with a very dry British sense of humour".

Ms Graham played saxophone in the high school band and had a weakness for Elvis, pupils and teachers said. At a vigil held at her old high school, the band played Elvis' Can't Help Falling In Love.

Charlottesville police chief Timothy Longo, who has made emotional public pleas for information, has acknowledged that the longer Ms Graham remains missing, the dimmer the hope she will be found alive.

The search for her has expanded to rural areas outside the college town of 40,000.

"We have an obligation to bring her home, one way or the other. That's what we promised to do," Mr Longo said.

The hunt for Matthew ended in the Texas beach town of Gilchrist, 1,260 miles from Charlottesville. A deputy sheriff responding to a suspicious person report found him camping on the beach.

Authorities say Ms Graham met friends at a restaurant for dinner September 12 before stopping by two off-campus parties. She left the second party alone and eventually texted a friend saying she was lost.

Matthew attended Liberty University from 2000 to 2002 and the school's athletics website listed him as a defensive lineman on the football team.

While at Liberty, Matthew was accused of raping a student on campus, but the charge was ultimately dropped, Lynchburg Commonwealth's Attorney Michael Doucette said.

"The complaining witness said she did not consent; Mr Matthew said she did consent," Mr Doucette said.

The Lynchburg police investigative file is being sent to Charlottesville at the request of police investigating Ms Graham's disappearance, he said.

Matthew attended Christopher Newport University in Newport News from January to October 2003, where he was briefly a member of the football team.

Press Association

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