By the time Hannah Graham’s parents, John and Sue Graham, first spoke about their daughter’s disappearance on Sunday, September 21, the 18-year-old UVA second-year had been missing for more than a week. It showed. Sue Graham, dressed in a long-sleeved T-shirt bearing Hannah’s ski team logo, wore a mask of pain while her husband offered an emotional plea to anyone who might have seen her in the early hours of Saturday morning, when she vanished after being spotted with a man on Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall.
“Did anybody see Hannah?” he asked, pointing at the throng of reporters in the City Space at the east end of the Downtown Mall. “Did you see Hannah? Did you see Hannah? Who saw Hannah? Somebody did.”
The somebody police centered their attention on is Jesse Matthew, a 32-year-old lifelong Charlottesville resident who has now been charged with her abduction. Matthew admitted to being with Graham after she apparently walked a mile and a half from the UVA Corner to the Mall in the early hours of Saturday, September 13. Portions of the trek were captured on multiple surveillance tapes, where the tall, slender student, dressed in a gold crop top and black jeans, can be seen in grainy snatches circling a patio, running down a street, and finally, being accompanied up the Mall by a man police say is Matthew. As Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy Longo put it with dramatic emphasis at Sunday’s press conference, “I believe Jesse Matthew was the last person she was seen with before she vanished off the face of the Earth.”
But Matthew is still missing. He met with police Sunday, asked for a lawyer, then sped away and lost the cops who had been tailing him. State police issued a warrant for his arrest for reckless driving, and then at yet another packed press conference on Tuesday night, Longo announced the big charge: abduction with intent to defile. He wouldn’t say what led to the charge, but he said state and federal law enforcement are looking for him—and for Hannah.
For now, Graham’s parents and a fearful but still hopeful community can only wait, and search, and examine again the evidence that’s trickled out over the course of the last week and a half.
“We need to find out what happened to Hannah,” her father said Sunday, “and make sure that it doesn’t happen to anybody else.”
Retracing Graham’s steps and the investigation as it’s unfolded since she went missing in the early hours of Saturday, September 13. (Click photo below to enlarge.)
Friday evening, September 12: It’s a big party night at UVA. Two frats—St. Anthony Hall and Zeta Psi—are hosting blowouts. Bars on the Corner are packed. Hannah Graham has been hanging out with friends from the UVA ski and snowboard club at Camden Plaza, a student housing complex near the Corner on 15th Street NW. Security camera footage shows her in a hallway at 9:15pm and again 15 minutes later, dressed for a night out—shiny crop top, black skinny jeans.
11:30pm Friday, September 12: Graham leaves Camden Plaza (1). Friends later say she told them she was headed to a party.
12:15am Saturday, September 13: Graham is seen leaving a party near 14th Street.
12:46am Saturday, September 13: A security camera at McGrady’s Irish Pub (2)—about half a mile east of 14th Street—captures Graham there for several minutes. She walks around the perimeter of the bar’s outside patio, approaches the door, then continues east onto Preston Avenue.
12:55am Saturday, September 13: A second security camera at the Shell gas station at Preston and Harris Street (3), another quarter mile down the road, picks up the image of Graham running east, then slowing to a walk. A witness later tells police Hannah walks down 2nd St. NE past Fellini’s and onto the Downtown Mall minutes later.
1:06am Saturday, September 13: Graham makes contact with friends for the last time, sending a text message telling them she’s lost in the area of Wertland Street—a mile and a half from where she actually was. (Police initially said that message was sent at 1:20am.) In the next two minutes, two more security cameras capture images of her walking east on the Mall, half a mile from the Shell station. The first is outside Sal’s Caffe Italia (4), the second a block east at Tuel Jewelers. A white male is briefly seen following her. Also visible in the footage is a heavyset black man with dreadlocks dressed in what appears to be a white shirt and shorts. Witnesses later report spotting Graham at Mall restaurant Tempo with the dreadlocked man not long after. It’s the last sighting of her.
Sunday afternoon, September 14: Graham’s friends and family realize nobody’s heard from or seen her since the early hours of Saturday morning—more than 36 hours before. At 4:34pm, someone calls 911. Police launch a search in the Corner area in the evening with a bloodhound, but turn up nothing.
Monday morning, September 15: The Charlottesville Police Department issues its first press release announcing the disappearance and investigation. UVA sets up a website with information about Graham, and Dean of Students Alan Groves tweets the news that a student is missing. Facebook and Twitter explode with posts and photos as people spread the word.
Tuesday, September 16: The search for Graham expands to cover the Preston Avenue corridor and much of downtown Charlottesville as police obtain the surveillance footage from McGrady’s and the Shell station. Graham’s parents issue their first statement, saying their daughter “would not disappear without contacting family or friends.”
Wednesday, September 17: Major papers across the U.S. pick up the story. Police announce they’ve seen the Downtown Mall footage, and say a witness—the white man seen following her in one video—has described seeing her talking with an unidentified black man, who put his arm around Graham. At 3pm, Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy Longo holds the first press conference and urges landowners to walk their properties looking for signs of Graham.
Thursday, September 18: Police release the witness’s description of the person seen talking to Graham: A heavyset black man in his 20s or 30s, with a goatee and a closely shaved head. The city announces it’s joining local businesses and individuals in offering a $50,000 total reward for information “leading to the cause of her disappearance.” Hundreds of UVA students gather at the UVA Amphitheater at 9pm for a candlelight vigil.
Friday, September 19: Early in the morning, police execute search warrants on an apartment on Hessian Hills Way in Albemarle, spending hours searching a burnt-orange Chrysler and an apartment, but making no arrests. At 5pm, Longo holds a second press conference, where he describes the car’s owner, who lives in the apartment, as a person of interest in the case. He turns out to be the man visible in the Sal’s footage—a man with dreadlocks, not a close-shaved head, as the witness remembered. Police say they believe Graham may have left downtown in his car after visiting Tempo.
Saturday, September 20: More than 1,000 volunteers gather at JPJ Arena and board buses to join local searches for Graham organized by the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. The person of interest is named by media as Jesse Matthew, a 32-year-old lifelong Charlottesville area resident.
Sunday, September 21: Longo holds a third press conference, announcing that Matthew came to police the day before and asked for a lawyer, then left the department, speeding away from and losing the police who were following him. Police say a warrant has been issued for his arrest on misdemeanor reckless driving charges. Graham’s parents speak publicly for the first time, pleading for information that could lead to her.
Monday, September 22: New details emerge about Matthew, whom police say is still at large: He works as an operating room technician at UVA, and is a former Charlottesville cab driver. A wanted person poster is released with information about the car he is believed to be driving, a light blue Nissan Sentra. Police return to his now-vacant apartment and take away more evidence.
Tuesday, September 23: Police hold an evening press conference to announce that they’ve charged Matthew with abduction with intent to defile in connection with Hannah Graham’s disappearance. Chief Longo won’t speak to what specific evidence gave them probable cause to make the arrest, but says state and federal resources are now focused on finding Matthew, who remains at large. And he says, the search continues for Hannah, “even as we speak.”
For any parent, the idea of a child gone missing is an unimaginable horror, and for Gil and Dan Harrington, the disappearance of Hannah Graham and the subsequent national media firestorm her case has stirred is the grimmest deja vu. Nearly five years ago, the Harringtons’ then-20-year-old daughter Morgan vanished after leaving a Metallica concert at the John Paul Jones Arena and being denied reentry. The Virginia Tech student’s remains were found three months later in a cow pasture in southern Albemarle County.
Since Morgan’s death, the Harringtons have become activists, pushing for campus safety legislation and founding the nonprofit Help Save the Next Girl. They have repeatedly warned that their daughter’s killer is still at large, and have expressed fear that he would not be caught before another woman died. But despite certain obvious similarities in Morgan and Hannah’s cases—both young women found themselves alone and possibly lost on the city streets of Charlottesville after dark before they vanished—Gil Harrington warns against trying to link Hannah’s case to Morgan’s or any other until more information is available.
“What’s important is finding Hannah,” she said. “The search is critical, in the acute phase, and we have the chance of a better outcome than we had in Morgan’s case. Let’s make it happen.”
The community has rallied, with 1,200 people participating in a weekend search that covered 85 percent of Charlottesville. Harrington says she’s heartened both by the outpouring of support she’s seen and also by the police response to the case.
“I’m really impressed by the passion and compassion that Chief Longo has shown us in the last two press conferences,” she said. “He’s making the community aware that they have some responsibility to do everything they can to find this young woman. I like that he enlisted everybody.”
Harrington said she and Dan have reached out to the Graham family through police to offer support, and they have stood in the background at recent press conferences. Gil Harrington was in Charlottesville again on Monday, September 22, at the Copeley Road Bridge where Morgan was last seen on October 17, 2009, and where a plaque memorializes her.
“It was a visceral need. I couldn’t stop myself from coming,” said Harrington. “It may be silly, but anointing this bridge is kind of my way of shouting from the rooftop. I want to find Hannah Graham, and I want everyone in this community to know that this has happened and to bring her back from the limbo of the missing.”
Anxiety on Grounds
UVA students played a key role in spreading the early word of Graham’s disappearance via Facebook and Twitter, and last Thursday night, thousands of them gathered with faculty and other community members at the UVA Amphitheater for a vigil for Graham—so many that the undergraduate organizers ran out of candles. On a stage was a Union Jack and a propped-up pair of skis, a nod to Graham’s country of birth and her favorite extracurricular activity. The night ended with UVA a capella group The Hullabahoos singing Edwin McCain’s “I’ll Be.”
The event was hopeful, but the atmosphere on Grounds has been tense. Many students said that as details have come out, they’ve started reevaluating their own behavior as they field calls from worried parents watching the Graham story unfold from afar. Many women in particular said they were changing their habits out of fear.
“We agreed to buddy up when walking home,” said 19-year-old second-year Meredith Lawrence last week. “We have started carpooling to the library because we do not feel safe anymore.”
Some are paying closer attention to the level of security at their off-campus apartment complexes. Lawrence, like others, said she’s now hyper-aware of her surroundings, even in and around the place she calls home. She lives on the first floor of a building next to the one where Graham lived.
“My roommates and I do not feel safe at all,” she said. Entry to her building is supposed to require a key fob, but people often prop the door open with a rock, especially on weekends, so they don’t have to carry the fobs with them. “When that’s the case, literally anyone could come in,” Lawrence said.
Others said it’s the city beyond the UVA-centric Corner that has them acting cautious—and wondering how their fellow student ended up so far from familiar territory.
“Directly around my apartment building, I feel safe,” said fourth-year Allison Lank, “but if I were walking alone towards Preston and McGrady’s…I would not feel quite as safe.”
“I think we forget UVA is not all of Charlottesville,” said one male student who asked to remain anonymous—not an uncommon request for reporters to hear as the story of Graham’s disappearance went international last week, drawing more news outlets to the on-edge campus. It’s a story that’s changing the way those at the school see their town, he said when stopped on his way to class on the Beta Bridge, where one wall is painted pale blue with “Bring Hannah Home” in green script. “We are not safe just because we are students here and live here,” he said.
UVA’s administration has acknowledged the effect of the disappearance of one of the University’s own on the school and students. Vice President and Chief Student Affairs Officer Patricia Lampkin addressed parents in a letter last week, encouraging them to talk to their kids, stress personal safety and counseling, and get their own support. President Sullivan has issued several statements of her own, and addressed the crowd at the Amphitheater last week, calling on people to hold onto hope that Graham will make it home safely.
“To be concerned and to be hopeful is not a contradiction,” she said. “We hold these two feelings side by side in our hearts, and they unite us in our support for Hannah and her family.”
But the longer the school community goes without news of their classmate, the harder it is for some. “This is my greatest fear coming true,” said another student, a female who also asked not to be named. “That a girl, like me, just disappears into the night.”—Courteney Stuart, Graelyn Brashear, and Nicolette Gendron