‘Person of interest’ sought in Va. student search

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — Police want to talk to a man who was seen by a witness with a University of Virginia student the night she disappeared, an official said Thursday.

Charlottesville Police Capt. Gary Pleasants said the witness came forward Wednesday after two more grainy surveillance videos were released of Hannah E. Graham from the Downtown Mall.

The 18-year- old from northern Virginia was last seen early Saturday at the mall, a popular row of shops and restaurants.

Pleasants said one video shows Graham outside a pizza shop. The witness was captured on the video as he exited the store and followed Graham. Another video from a jewelry store two minutes later also shows the witness following Graham.

The witness told police that he followed her because she looked like she was in distress.

“It looked like she was at least in some physical distress and he was concerned for her,” Pleasants said.

The witness, whose name wasn’t released, told police that before he could catch up with Graham, another man approached her and put his arm around her.

“From the interaction, he (the witness) thought they knew each other, so he thought she was fine and he left,” Pleasants said.

Police released a description of the man Thursday, calling him a “person of interest.” They described him as black, 5-foot-10 or 5-foot-11, and 250-285 pounds with a close-shaved head and goatee. He also had a “beer belly” and was dressed in black jeans and a white T-shirt. His estimated age is late 20s or early 30s.

“We certainly need to talk to this person and see what his interaction was,” Pleasants said.

The man isn’t seen in either video. The second video appears to show someone next to Graham, but Pleasants said it’s her reflection in the store window.

Two other videos released earlier show Graham walking past a pub and, minutes later, running past a service station.

The university’s student council has scheduled a “Bring Hannah Home” candlelight vigil on the Charlottesville campus Thursday night.

She was last heard from early Saturday morning, when she texted a friend after leaving a party to say she was lost. Her friends reported her missing Sunday. Police have searched a wide area northeast and east of the campus without success.

Her parents, John and Susan Graham, have said they fear foul play, but Police Chief Timothy Longo said authorities have no substantial evidence to support that.

Longo said Graham met friends for dinner at a restaurant Friday night, dropped by parties at two off-campus housing units and left the second one by herself. Longo said Graham had been drinking.

Graham is 5-foot-11 with blue eyes, light brown hair and freckles. The search has involved local, state and university police and the FBI. Searchers have employed canine teams and helicopters.

A reward with contributions from several sources totals $50,000 for information revealing what led to Graham’s disappearance. The university and the city of Charlottesville each contributed $10,000 to the reward fund.

Police have interviewed about 50 people and have established a designated tip line for information on Graham. The number is (434) 295-3851.

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