CONCORD, N.C. – The man accused of killing a police chief's daughter and dumping her body in a self-storage unit said Tuesday he would not fight his return to North Carolina, as mourners in her hometown remembered her smile and penchant for making people laugh.
More than 500 people crammed into First Presbyterian Church near Charlotte to pay tribute to 23-year-old Valerie Hamilton. Friends remembered her joking nature, whether on the softball field, in the high school band, or at her job teaching children how to swim. If anyone was upset, she'd tell a joke to break the tension.
"Making people smile was very important to her," said Beth Pinto, her high school guidance counselor and church youth director, who recalled a holiday event about six years ago when the teens were making gingerbread houses. Not Hamilton. She made a "shack" while smearing the peanut butter and marshmallow cream on her face to make a gingerbread person.
"She was just full of life. If you gave her an assignment, she'd put her own twist on it," Pinto said.
Hamilton was seen leaving a Charlotte tavern early last Wednesday morning with her accused killer, Michael Neal Harvey, 34, police said. It appears the woman left voluntarily with Harvey, and the Charlotte Observer reported that her friend Ashley Barton, 20, said Hamilton called her just after 3 a.m. and asked her to come over to join her and a friend in the hot tub at Valerie's apartment complex.
Barton declined. By Thursday, friends and family grew worried when they didn't hear from Hamilton.
Police said in a news release Tuesday that detectives found evidence of drug usage and witnesses indicated that although alive, Hamilton appeared to need immediate medical attention. The suspect did not seek professional medical attention for Hamilton after being prompted by several witnesses, police said.
It wasn't immediately clear what the drug usage evidence was and a police spokesman refused to answer follow-up questions.
Police said Harvey killed Hamilton and dumped her body before fleeing to Niagara Falls, where he grew up. He was arrested there Monday.
Hamilton's boss at Little Otter Swim School in Charlotte said hundreds of children know how to swim because of Hamilton. The children would stop crying when she was around, said co-owner John Kirk, recalling that she liked to loudly sing children's songs, which the kids loved. She had worked there for three years.
Madison Smith said Hamilton was her best friend, as they lived and waited tables together after high school. Recently, they went tubing down the river, and it was Hamilton who insisted on using the "toddler tubes."
"She was very spunky. She had a hunger for life," Smith said.
In New York at Harvey's court hearing, his mother broke into tears. Neither his family nor his attorney, Michael White, spoke to reporters as they left the courtroom.
In court documents, Harvey told authorities he was adopted by his grandparents at age 3 because his mother abused drugs. He earned his high school equivalency diploma in 1993 at Moriah Shock Boot Camp in New York's Adirondack Mountains, a facility for young offenders.
Harvey told authorities he first drank alcohol at age 7. At age 12, he began smoking marijuana, which he would smoke daily until he was 28, he said. He tried cocaine for the first time at 13 and used amphetamines and hallucinogens in his teens, though he says he stopped using those years ago. He did heroin at 18 and first smoked crack at age 30, according to a January 2008 pre-sentencing report for violating his probation.
In 1996, he was convicted of first-degree sexual abuse in New York and was on probation in North Carolina after his 2006 conviction on charges that he failed to register as a sex offender.
At the time of the 2008 pre-sentencing report, he had been homeless for a year and admitted using heroin several times since leaving drug rehab. He was sentenced to three years of supervised probation and the judge recommended he live in a halfway house, though he was assessed as having a medium-to-high risk of re-offending.
His mother, Rose Harvey, told authorities he was a "great student, very smart, but often got bored in school." In January 2008, she described her son, the father of a young daughter who lives with her mother, as a "passionate, caring, family man."
In June 2009, he was convicted of felony breaking and entering — for stealing golf clubs, power tools and other property the year before — and received a suspended sentence.
This year, he was indicted on three charges from the Charlotte metro area — possession of a firearm by a felon, possession with intent to sell heroin and possession of drug paraphernalia, specifically needles and baggies.
Thompson reported from Lockport, N.Y.