Human remains found in rural Virginia have been confirmed as belonging to missing University of Virginia student Hannah Graham, law enforcement officials announced Friday.
The remains were discovered last weekend in a rural area of southern Albemarle County.
Graham, 18, had been missing since the early hours of Sept. 13, when she sent a text message to a friend indicating she might be lost. She had been at a bar in Charlottesville the night she disappeared, and video released by local authorities showed her running and stumbling.
In a statement released by the Albemarle County Police Department, Graham’s parents, John and Sue Graham, said they are devastated by the loss of their daughter.
“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.”
The Graham family described their daughter as bright, witty and loyal, and said she hoped to pursue a career in public health. “It is heartbreaking for us that she was robbed so tragically of the opportunity to fulfill her dream,” they said.
Jesse LeRoy Matthew Jr., a 32-year-old medical technician, has been charged with abduction with the intent to defile in connection with Graham’s disappearance. Police say he was the last person seen with her.
On Sept. 24, police arrested Matthew in Texas after he fled Virginia authorities.
Matthew has been charged in a separate 2005 rape case in Fairfax County, Va., and has been identified as a person of interest in the 2009 disappearance of Morgan D. Harrington, a 20-year-old female Virginia Tech student.
Police said last month that his arrest in the Graham case provided a “new forensic link” in Harrington’s disappearance, but have not charged Matthew in that case.
In a statement, Albemarle County Prosecutor Denise Lunsford said they would now focus on how to charge Matthew.
“We would like to thank the many volunteers and law enforcement personnel who spent five weeks searching tirelessly in hopes of bringing Hannah home,” Lunsford said in a statement. “Your dedication and perseverance bring solace to a community that has been shaken by a senseless, horrific crime.”
The Grahams asked for privacy as they grieved, and thanked the volunteers and Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy Longo, whose resolve to find Hannah, they said, “never wavered.”
“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 family said.
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