Several hundred people gathered at the University of Virginia last night for a candlelight vigil in support of Hannah Graham, a student who disappeared nearly a week ago. Meanwhile, police are asking for more help from the public, and a search is planned for Saturday.
When police said they had images of a man following Hannah Graham on the downtown mall early Saturday morning, some people assumed he would be a suspect in the case – especially when the as-yet-unnamed man turned up at the police station after his picture went public, but Captain Gary Pleasants says he is a cooperative witness who tried earlier to report what he had seen.
“He had called the tipline. He was one of about 100 tips. He and the detective had been playing phone tag all afternoon. She had called him. He had called back. They just missed each other until ten o’clock that evening. He actually called at about three o’clock.”
The witness says he approached Graham on the mall, because she seemed to be distressed. Then, he says, this other man came along and put his arm around her. They appeared to be acquainted, so the witness says he left. Captain Pleasants says the man they are now seeking is African-American, stands just under six feet tall, has a shaved head, a goatee, weighs more than 250 pounds and is about 30 years old. He was said to be wearing a white shirt and black jeans. Police are hoping someone else saw the man and will come forward.
Hundreds came out last night for a vigil in support of Graham and her family. Among them, two friends who had traveled with her in France this summer – Emily McDuff and Samantha Westrum . They said Graham’s disappearance had created a stronger spirit of community on campus.
“The support network of this community is incredible, I mean it’s been more evident than ever tonight and this week that UVA is a family. We might have 15,000-20,000 kids at this school, but we all do care about each other. People are giving each other rides when they didn’t necessarily know each other that well last week, and they are caring a little bit more every day for each other.”
And both expressed the hope that Graham is still alive.
“She might have found some boy that she ran off with. Who knows, but she’s a strong, strong soul, and I have hope that she’s going to make it back. You have to have hope! You absolutely have to have hope!“
And you have to have action. So said the student body’s president as he called on those in attendance to get out their cell phones, go online, and sign up for a community search taking place on Saturday.