The Search For Evidence In Hannah Graham's Now-Death Investigation Continues
Police called the discovery of human remains a "significant development" in the disappearance of a missing University of Virginia student, but many questions still remain unanswered. On Sunday, authorities in Virginia continued their investigation into the disappearance of Hannah Graham, searching the property where the remains were found and are believed to be those of Graham; positive identification and forensic testing have yet to be conducted. In the meantime, authorities are looking for additional clues in the case that has sparked concern in Charlottesville, Virginia, residents over the last month.
The human remains were found Saturday on an abandoned property off Old Lynchburg Road in Albemarle County, Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy Longo said in a news conference. The location of the remains was about five miles from where the body of Morgan Harrington, a Virgina Tech student who went missing in 2009, was found.
Since the discovery of the remains, authorities have called off volunteer search parties, turning their attention now to what Albemarle County Police Chief Steve Sellers has called an "ongoing death investigation." The Virginia Department of Emergency Management, which was overseeing the searches, released this statement over the weekend:
The outcome of a forensic investigation following Saturday's discovery in Albemarle County will determine the need for additional searches.
Police combed through the abandoned property on Saturday and Sunday, searching for any evidence that could indicate what happened the morning of September 13 — the last time Graham was seen alive. Residents of the rural area told The Associated Press that there was a constant police presence over the weekend, with helicopters flying overhead and police cars up and down the wooden road.
Although the authorities are now treating the case as a murder investigation, some forensic experts have doubts that the remains found on Saturday are those of Graham, because of the state of decomposition. Many details remain unconfirmed, but the deputy who discovered the remains described them as a skull with no hair and scattered bones without flesh. Forensic expert Jonathan Arden told USA Today that there's a possibility these remains are not those of Graham based on the description:
This is a level of decomposition that is far in excess of what I would expect for roughly a month in this climate. ... I'm highly concerned that these may be the remains of a different person because in this kind of climate, it commonly takes six to nine months and sometimes longer for a body to skeletonize essentially completely.
However, authorities said that they also found black pants, similar to the ones Graham was wearing the night she disappeared, in the area. No other details about the scene or uncovered evidence have been released.
According to WUSA9, authorities won't comment on when they'll know for sure if the remains are those of Graham. The remains are currently being handled by the Richmond Medical Examiner's Office, who will also determine a cause of death.
If the remains are Graham's, then it certainly was Divine intervention that led to their discovery, according to Sgt. Dale Terry. The deputy told WTVR that he led his search team to the abandoned property after combing through nearby Walnut Creek Park. “Something inside me just told me to continue to look," Terry said, adding that "God wanted me" to find the remains.