Charlottesville's police chief said Sunday that an anguished statement from the parents of a missing University of Virginia student has given investigators the resolve to carry out a difficult search of hundreds square miles of countryside.
Police Chief Timothy Longo said that law enforcement is aggressively searching areas surrounding Charlottesville – many of which are mountainous, hilly, or thick with brush – for Hannah Graham, who disappeared on Sept. 13.
A team of about 100 law enforcement officers and other trained searchers were combing through the countryside Saturday and Sunday looking for any sign of the college sophomore. Teams have been searching every day since Graham was reported missing.
On Saturday, her parents made an emotional plea for whoever is responsible for the 18-year-old's disappearance to help find their daughter. In the videotaped statement, Sue Graham said: "Please, please, please help end this nightmare for all of us." The Grahams also thanked law enforcement for their efforts.
Longo said the statement shows the "pain, the grief and the anguish" that the Grahams are going through. He read their words aloud to the search team on Saturday.
"They went out here yesterday with a clearer understanding of the importance of finding Hannah Graham," he said.
Longo said that law enforcement has received more than 3,300 tips for their search. He asked area property owners to check their land.
"If you have a well on your property, search that well. If you have an abandoned structure, search that structure," he said.
Longo also said all-terrain vehicles, aircraft, and mounted officers are searching rural Albemarle County, parts of which are hilly or mountainous.
"Lots of these areas are very difficult to get to," he said.
Jesse Leroy Matthew Jr., a 32-year-old Charlottesville man, has been charged with "abduction with intent to defile" in the disappearance of Graham. Police say forensic evidence also connects the 32-year-old Charlottesville man to the 2009 slaying of Morgan Harrington, a 20-year-old Virginia Tech student.
Longo declined to answer questions on the case against Matthew. He also said he couldn't discuss the investigation into Harrington's death.
Sharon Jones, a canine handler and president of the nonprofit search organization Dogs East, has been assisting the search with a black German Shepherd named Gyro. Gyro is trained to detect the scent of any living human or body.
Asked about what challenges the searchers face, she noted the duration of the search and difficult brush that the dogs are trained to break through: "The dogs and the handlers are getting, just, tired."
But she added, "As long as we're needed, we'll be here."
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