Person of Interest Identified in Disappearance of UVA Student Hannah Graham
How did a normal Friday night with friends turn into 18-year-old second-year Hannah Graham running past a Shell station alone? Police have sketched her last known route.
“You make things good, Hannah Graham. We want you back. Where are you?”
Lani Galloway was speaking to the 6,000 attendees of a candlelight vigil Thursday night, but it was her missing friend she addressed as the search entered its sixth day. Eighteen-year-old Hannah Elizabeth Graham, a second-year student, was last heard from at 1:20 a.m. Saturday, when she sent a text message to friends.
Now the Charlottesville Police Department has shaped a rough timeline leading up to her disappearance using surveillance footage from local businesses. Graham, who was born in the United Kingdom but moved to Virginia when she was 5, went to dinner with friends Friday night and remained with them until 11 p.m. She is then thought to have gone alone to at least two locations in the off-campus area near her apartment. Police believe that at the second location, Graham became disoriented, walking alone as she traveled northeast.
She is next located at 12:46 a.m. on video footage from McGrady’s Irish Pub, a bar rarely frequented by undergraduate students. From there she walks west, then circles back around and proceeds east. Nine minutes later, Graham is captured on video running past a Shell station. Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy Longo said that footage was initially concerning, but he noted that she soon stops. “It does not appear, at least at that point, that she was being pursued,” he said.
Police believe that Graham then proceeded southbound, toward the Charlottesville Downtown Mall. Footage from two businesses shows her passing the mall shortly after 1 a.m. A man appears to sidestep Graham as she walks by, then begins to follow her.
That man is now cooperating with police, telling authorities he saw a black man—estimated at 5-foot-10 to 5-foot-11 and 250 to 280 pounds—approach Graham and put his arm around her. The second man is now a person of interest in the case.
Although police have said Graham, who is described by family and friends as a conscientious student, was likely “fairly well intoxicated,” Longo said that detail was released purely “from an investigative standpoint.”
“Folks have gone very quickly to that issue and have attacked the character of that young lady, and I think unfairly,” he said. “The reason why that information is important from an investigative standpoint is to suggest the fact that she was vulnerable. She may not have been in a position to protect herself or defend herself.”
With surveillance footage yielding more and more details, police say the search area is continually expanding. Students and community members over the age of 18 can sign up for an exhaustive search effort that begins Saturday morning.
“If 6,000 people were at the vigil, we hope it will be big,” said university student council President Jalen Ross of the search.
Students have described the atmosphere around the University of Virginia campus as tense since the disappearance of Graham, who was an active member of the Virginia ski team and ran the group’s social media accounts.
“Things have been pretty unsettled,” said third-year student Joe Pittman. “At the library last night, everyone was making sure every person had a way home. It’s never been like that.”
Hearing the names of places students frequent on the national news has been unnerving, students told The Daily Beast. When asked how they are feeling, many said they are scared.
“One of us is gone, [and] it is affecting us all,” second-year student Marissa Garey said after the vigil, hugging one of her friends who knew Graham. “One has touched everyone.”
At the vigil, musical and a capella groups performed some of Graham’s favorite songs, including a string version of Lorde’s “Royals” and a saxophone rendition of Vance Joy’s “Riptide.” Red and pink Starbursts, also her favorite, were scattered throughout the amphitheater.
“We spoke with a lot of Hannah’s friends to get an understanding from them of what they wanted and what they needed at this time,” said second-year student Lital Firestone, the vice president of Graham’s class. “We wanted it to reflect her life. That’s why we had the display of her favorite things, to show she is a real person.”
“We are not commemorating her—we are cherishing her and celebrating her and anticipating her return.”
In the meantime, Dean of Students Allen Groves said the school has increased security measures to help assuage students’ fears.
“We have stepped up the presence of our police in the area around the Corner and around Grounds, also adding an extra van to our Safe Ride van service we have told students about,” Groves said.
Though he acknowledged that the atmosphere on campus since Graham’s disappearance has been difficult, Groves said the community by and large is staying positive.
“I think people are hopeful,” he said. “I really believe that. The students that I’ve talked to are concerned, anxious—but are hopeful. And they still believe, as I do, that Hannah is out there and she will come home.”