ATLANTA – More than 150 people fanned out in the northern Georgia woods Sunday looking for the body of a 24-year-old hiker believed to have been killed, a day after authorities charged a man with kidnapping her.
Investigators had recovered three bloody fleece tops like the kind Meredith Emerson wore and said they held out little hope of finding her alive.
"It's gone from a search and rescue to a search and recovery," Union County sheriff's investigator Kimberly Verdone said.
Authorities served a warrant Saturday evening charging Gary Michael Hilton, 61, with kidnapping with bodily injury, Georgia Bureau of Investigation spokesman John Bankhead said. Hilton, who investigators have said was the last person seen with Emerson on the trail, was detained Friday after trying to use Emerson's credit card, according to the warrant.
Three bloody fleece tops believed to be Emerson's and a bloodstained piece of a car's seat belt were found in a trash bin beside a convenience store where Hilton had used a pay phone, the warrant stated. Hilton had attempted to vacuum and wash portions of his 2001 Chevrolet Astro van, which was found without the rear seat belt, according to the document.
Hilton was already in federal custody near Atlanta, held on a warrant for failure to appear in court on a charge of abandoning property in a national park.
He has requested a court-appointed attorney for his first court appearance, which is set for Monday, Union County Officer Gayle Bachelor said Sunday. She declined to allow The Associated Press to speak with him by phone.
Hilton was not cooperating with authorities, Bankhead said.
Search teams focused again Sunday on a 5-square-mile area of mountainous terrain about 90 miles north of Atlanta in the Chattahoochee National Forest, near where Emerson's car was discovered Wednesday, Bankhead said.
The search had been focused on Vogel State Park, at the base of Blood Mountain in the national forest, where Emerson was last seen on New Year's Day hiking with her black Labrador retriever, Ella.
The dog was found 50 miles away Friday in a grocery store parking lot in Cumming, a suburb north of Atlanta, and identified using an implanted microchip, Verdone said.
Julia Karrenbauer, Emerson's roommate, described her as an experienced hiker who has a blue belt in martial arts. Other friends said she was familiar with the trail near where her car was found, having jogged on it several times with a partner.
Emerson, formerly of Longmont, Colo., recently moved to Buford, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta.
Vogel is one of Georgia's oldest and most popular state parks. The area includes a segment of the Appalachian Trail, the famous hiking route that stretches from Georgia to Maine.