BLACKSBURG, Va. (Reuters) - Students walking among the limestone-studded buildings on Virginia Tech’s campus on Monday said they were rattled by the news of two engineering majors charged in the abduction and murder of a 13-year-old local girl from the college town of Blacksburg.
“This guy lived under me?” said freshman Faraz Alam, 18, who lives in the same residence hall as one of the students charged. “It could have happened to any of my friends.”
First-year students David Eisenhauer, 18, and Natalie Keepers, 19, appeared in court on Monday in nearby Christiansburg but did not enter a plea and were being held in jail without bond.
Lawyers for both students declined to comment.
Keepers, handcuffed and dressed in an orange jail jumpsuit, appeared to cry softly as a judge read her charges.
Blacksburg, Virginia, police said Eisenhauer, a member of the cross country team at Virginia Tech, kidnapped and killed the girl, Nicole Lovell, and Keepers helped him dispose of the body.
But most other details in the case remain unknown. Lovell’s remains were found in North Carolina, about 90 miles south of her home in Blacksburg, on Saturday, four days after she was reported missing.
Police have not said how she died on or about Jan. 27. An arrest warrant, however, said a gun was not used to kill her.
The result of an autopsy performed Monday was not expected until just before the next court hearing on March 28, the prosecutor’s office said.
The charges seem at odds with details emerging about the pair. Eisenhauer was a three-time state champion in high school track events, according to a now-deleted page from the Virginia Tech cross country team’s online roster.
“He was an excellent student,” James LeMon, principal at the high school in Columbia, Maryland, said in a telephone interview. “He had a lot of friends here.”
Keepers, also a good student, was involved in the theater program at a high school roughly five miles away in the same town, Howard County public schools spokesman John White said.
She volunteered at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Laurel, Maryland, said a person answering the phone at the church who declined further comment.
If convicted, Eisenhauer could face 20 years to life in prison on the murder charge and Keepers up to five years on the charges of transporting and concealing a body. Police have not said how Keepers got involved.
Keepers and Eisenhauer lived in residence halls just a few minutes apart on the Virginia Tech campus, which has 31,000 full-time students. The university has dealt with tragedy before - in 2007, student Seung-Hui Cho gunned down 32 people there before taking his own life.
Nicole Lovell’s mother, Tammy Weeks, told the Washington Post that investigators said her daughter may have met Eisenhauer on social media recently.
Weeks declined an interview with Reuters. Blacksburg police have said Eisenhauer and Lovell became acquainted before her disappearance, but a spokesman would not elaborate.
Additional reporting by Amy Tennery and Gina Cherelus in New York; editing by Grant McCool