CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Police blocked off roads, sifted through leaves and scoured a rural area where they found remains that could be missing University of Virginia student Hannah Graham.
It's not clear how long it will take authorities to identify the remains they discovered over the weekend, about 12 miles from campus.
Police let Graham's parents know about the discovery before they publicly released the information and instead of continuing the search for Graham, they focused Sunday on looking for clues and evidence in a heavily wooded area of Albemarle County that is home to horse farms.
The last person seen with Graham, 32-year-old Jesse Leroy Matthew Jr., has been charged with abduction with intent to defile Graham. He is being held in the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail.
The remains were discovered roughly 6 miles from where the body of 20-year-old Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington was found after she vanished in 2009. Police have said forensic evidence connects Matthew to Harrington's killing, which in turn is linked by DNA to a 2005 sexual assault in northern Virginia. Matthew hasn't been charged in those cases.
The 18-year-old Graham hasn't been seen since Sept. 13 after a night out with friends. She had met friends at a restaurant for dinner before stopping by two off-campus parties. She left the second party alone and eventually texted a friend saying she was lost, authorities said.
In surveillance video, she can be seen walking unsteadily and even running at times, past a pub and a service station and then onto a seven-block strip of bars, restaurants and shops. On Sunday, the area was buzzing with people having brunch at outdoor cafes on a brisk, sunny day. Graham's disappearance and the discovery of human remains was a frequent topic of conversation.
"Everybody was rattled. Everybody knew it was coming, but you still hope for the best. As much as you can prepare for it, you can never prepare for it," said Claire Meyers, a University of Virginia nursing student who has friends who knew Graham and Matthew.
Matthew was an operating room technician at the university's hospital, where Meyers works as a patient care assistant.
Albemarle County resident Bill Gnas, a retiree who lives a few miles from where the remains were found, said he suspected the worst.
"Truly, I was saddened by it. After three or four days you had to anticipate it was going to be another Harrington event where they were going to find the body, and the only thing you could hope for at that point was that there be some closure for the parents that it was in fact discovered," he said.