The Medical Examiner’s Office in Richmond has confirmed that the remains found near a vacant home south of Charlottesville on October 18 are those of missing 18-year-old UVA student Hannah Graham, police announced Friday.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Graham family and Hannah’s friends during this incredibly difficult time,” read a release from the Albemarle County Police Department. Charlottesville Commonwealth’s Attorney Denise Lunsford also expressed sympathies, and said her office is now focused on what charges to bring and when.
“We are working diligently with local law enforcement on the investigation to ensure that we make the best determination for our community and the Grahams in the pursuit of justice,” she said in a press release.
Police said the investigation into Graham’s death continues, and now links multiple agencies: the Charlottesville Police Department, which launched the search for Graham days after she went missing; the Fairfax City Police Department, which earlier this week announced rape and attempted murder charges against Jesse Leroy Matthew, Jr., the 32-year-old Charlottesville man currently charged with Graham’s abduction; and the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s Appomattox Field Office, which is the lead agency on the investigation into the death of Morgan Harrington, whose 2009 disappearance and death police say Matthew is linked to through “forensic evidence.”
Graham’s remains were found exactly five weeks after Hannah was last seen leaving a restaurant on the Downtown Mall in the early hours of the morning accompanied by Matthew. A team of searchers from the Chesterfield County Sheriff’s Office was finishing up a shift at Walnut Creek Park when police say the volunteers decided to extend the effort to cover a vacant property nearby on Old Lynchburg Road, where tips had been called in earlier in the month describing large numbers of vultures gathered. The head of the search team told reporters they discovered the remains in a dry creek bed.
“Since the discovery along Old Lynchburg Road, officers and detectives have been working around the clock to process the scene and preserve evidence,” said Carter Johnson, spokeswoman for the Albemarle County Police, in Friday’s press release. “Our focus is on the investigation and therefore, we will not be answering questions regarding the case or investigation. We do ask that people continue to call in with tips or information. We are asking to hear from individuals who live along Old Lynchburg Road or who might have seen suspicious behavior in the area following Hannah’s disappearance.”
Police and prosecutors stressed that they won’t be commenting to media about the investigation going forward.
“We will take whatever measures necessary to ensure the integrity of this highly sensitive investigation and any possible prosecution,” Lunsford said.
In a statement released along with the news of the ID, John and Sue Graham expressed gratitude to the law enforcement officers and members of the public who have helped search for their daughter for more than a month.
“When we first met Chief Longo he promised to find our precious daughter, Hannah, and during five long weeks his resolve to fulfill that promise never wavered,” they said. “When we started this journey together we all hoped for a happier ending. Sadly that was not to be, but due to the tenacity and determination of Chief Longo, Hannah is coming home to us and we will be eternally grateful to him for this.
“We also give our heartfelt thanks to all those who took part in the community search, to the citizens of Charlottesville, and to the individuals, businesses and organizations, both local and national, who provided untold resources to help support the search for Hannah.”
They also asked the public to remember that, “although the waiting has ended for us, there are other families both in Virginia and beyond who have not been as fortunate in that their loved ones are still missing. Please continue to hold these families in your thoughts and prayers.”
The Charlottesville Police Department’s dedicated tip line for the investigation remains open at 434-295-3851.
The full statement from the Graham family is below:
When we first met Chief Longo he promised to find our precious daughter, Hannah, and during five long weeks his resolve to fulfill that promise never wavered. When we started this journey together we all hoped for a happier ending. Sadly that was not to be, but due to the tenacity and determination of Chief Longo, Hannah is coming home to us and we will be eternally grateful to him for this.
The search for Hannah would not have been successful were it not for the many, many people who helped, including Mark Eggeman and VDEM, local, state and federal law enforcement officers, the staff of the City of Charlottesville, and the dedicated members of numerous volunteer search and rescue groups. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. We also give our heartfelt thanks to all those who took part in the community search, to the citizens of Charlottesville, and to the individuals, businesses and organizations, both local and national, who provided untold resources to help support the search for Hannah. We would also like to take this opportunity to express our gratitude to those who provided support to us and to our family throughout this ordeal, including the staff and students of the University of Virginia, our friends, neighbors and work colleagues, the staff and students of West Potomac High School, Hannah’s friends, and the countless kind people who have sent us messages of support. We thank you all.
We are devastated by the loss of our beautiful daughter, Hannah. Over recent weeks Hannah has been described by those who know her as bright, witty, thoughtful, loyal and fun to be around. She was all those things and more. Put simply, Hannah lit up our lives, the lives of our family and the lives of her friends and others who knew her. Although we have lost our precious Hannah, the light she radiated can never be extinguished. We will hold it in our hearts forever and it will help sustain us as we face a painful future without her. We are so very proud of Hannah and all that she achieved. Although only 18 years old, Hannah had just started her second year at the University of Virginia when she disappeared and was excelling academically. She loved U.Va. and the City of Charlottesville, and was very happy to return there after the summer break. Hannah had intended to pursue a career in global public health, she wanted to help others, and it is heart-breaking for us that she was robbed so tragically of the opportunity to fulfill her dream.
In closing we would like to draw attention to the fact that, although the waiting has ended for us, there are other families both in Virginia and beyond who have not been as fortunate in that their loved ones are still missing. Please continue to hold these families in your thoughts and prayers.
We do not intend to make any further statements at this time, nor to comment on the ongoing criminal investigation. We ask the media to respect our privacy and that of our family as we continue to grieve.
John and Sue Graham
October 24, 2014