CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — With a suspect in the abduction of an 18-year-old woman back in the state, a search and rescue team worked with canine units Saturday trying to find the University of Virginia sophomore who vanished more than two weeks ago.
"We already have boots on the ground working," said Mark Eggeman, search and rescue coordinator for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. "We have maintained a presence on the scene searching every day since this happened. We have not stopped searching."
Hannah Graham was reported missing Sept. 14, the day after the northern Virginia woman was captured by surveillance videos as she walked unaccompanied in Charlottesville's Downtown Mall. Police have identified Jesse Leroy Matthew Jr., a hospital worker, as the last person to be seen with Graham early on the morning of Sept. 13.
Matthew was returned from Texas late Friday after he was found on a beach near Galveston. He is being held without bond at the Charlottesville-Albemarle Regional Jail.
Matthew, 32, is expected to make his first court appearance on Thursday to face a charge of abduction with intent to defile — or sexually molest.
While Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy Longo has encouraged residents of his city of 40,000 and beyond to be aware of any sign of Graham, the team directed by Eggeman brings special skills in its search for her. They are trained, for instance, to detect signs of human movement.
"You're looking for signs of passage, you're looking for the very subtle things that most people who are not trained to do this will walk right past," Eggeman said.
The team includes volunteers often called in by the state to look for lost hunters or wayward elders. Others taking part include members of the Albemarle County Sheriff's Office. The searchers number about 20 and include about half as many canine units.
Eggeman said the focus of the search is based on investigative leads. He declined to state precisely where searchers were looking Saturday other than to say south of the city in Albemarle County.
"There's a lot of ground to cover," he said, calling the search part marathon, part process of elimination.
Last weekend, more than 1,200 volunteers searched Charlottesville. The search area has widened to the rolling hills outside of Charlottesville.
To supplement the professional searchers, Longo has encouraged area residents to search their property for any signs of Graham. He also asked real estate agents to search vacant properties.
Longo acknowledged that hope of finding Graham dims the more time passes, but he said he remains hopeful.
As for Eggeman, he too remains hopeful as leads continue to pour into Charlottesville investigators. Longo has said more than 1,600 tips have come in.
"Every day there's new information, there's a new lead," Eggeman said. "It's like building blocks, it's one thing leads to another.
"As long as they have things to pursue, we will continue to search."