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Cops: Missing U.Va. student may have been in man's car

Hannah Graham

CBS affiliate WCAV

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Missing University of Virginia student Hannah Graham was seen by eyewitnesses and on video with a man on Charlottesville's downtown pedestrian mall early Saturday, the morning she vanished, police said in a press conference Friday.

Police have not charged the man and did not release his name, but they did release his description, saying that they believe Graham went to a bar with him on the mall and they believe she was also in his car when he left.

Police described the man as a 32-year-old black male, about 270 pounds and six feet, two inches tall with dreadlocks. They urged anyone who may have seen Graham, the man, or the two together to come forward.

They also described his car - a 1998 burnt orange Chrysler coupe. The vehicle was parked last Friday and early Saturday near the mall, and Charlottesville Police Chief Tim Longo also urged anyone who saw the car or saw it leaving the mall area to call in.

"We need your help. We need people's help to find this young lady," said Longo in an emotional plea.

Police seized the car Friday, and executed a search warrant at the man's home on Hessian Hills Way, about three miles from the pedestrian mall. The man was there when police arrived at the home. Police say there wasn't enough probable cause to arrest him, and he hasn't been charged with a crime.

"When we arrest the person responsible for deconstructing the lives of (Hannah's parents) Mr. and Mrs. Graham and this community, there's going to be a prosecution that leads to a conviction," Longo said.

Graham, 18, vanished early Saturday after leaving a party. Surveillance video has emerged of the teen in several locations around Charlottesville before she was last heard from via text message shortly after 1 a.m., telling a friend she was lost.

More than 400 tips have been offered in the case so far. "Many of those tips got us to the point where we are now," Longo said.

Based on video evidence, police believe the man whose apartment they searched was walking westbound on the mall, and within a couple of seconds, Hannah Graham was walking eastbound, said Det. Sgt. Jim Mooney, the lead investigator on the case.

Moments later, Mooney said, the man went to the other side of the mall and followed eastbound behind Graham, and was later seen with his hands around Graham's waist. Police believe the two later went to a bar.

"We know he purchased alcohol there, we know Hannah Graham was with him," Longo said. "Within 15 minutes, they were gone, and his car is seen leaving the area on video. We have every reason to believe Ms. Graham was in that vehicle."

Police had earlier released a video of Graham walking on the mall with someone apparently walking next to her. Police at first thought it was a reflection, but they now believe it was the man who drove the car, Longo said.

The man's description appears to differ from one offered by a witness who came forward to police saying he saw a man put his arm around Graham on the mall that morning.

The search for the northern Virginia woman has involved local police, the Virginia State Police, University of Virginia police and the FBI. The search has also included canine teams and helicopters. More searches were planned for the weekend.

Longo said he had met with Graham's family, saying "they want to know what happened to their little girl."

"They're hurt, they're concerned, they're frustrated, but not for one second have I ever discerned that they've lost hope in finding their daughter," Longo said.

Police describe Graham as a white female, about five feet, 11 inches tall, with blue eyes, light brown hair and freckles. She was last seen wearing a black crop top with mesh cutouts.

Anyone with information about her whereabouts is asked to call 434-295-3851.

  • Erin Donaghue

    Erin Donaghue covers crime for CBSNews.com's Crimesider.