Authorities in Virginia say middle-schooler Nicole Madison Lovell was killed on the same day she was abducted, with a prosecutor saying Tuesday that the preliminary cause of death is stabbing.
Authorities believe Virginia Tech student David E. Eisenhauer, the alleged killer, had help not just after the 13-year-old Blacksburg girl was dead, but before.
Another student at the university, Natalie M. Keepers — who already is charged with concealing a body and being an accessory to murder after the fact — now faces an additional charge of being an accessory to murder before the fact, Montgomery County Commonwealth’s Attorney Mary Pettitt said.
Nicole went missing early on January 27, spurring an extensive search that led to the discovery of her body Saturday in a wooded area off N.C. 89 in Surry County, North Carolina.
By that point, Eisenhauer, 18, was already in custody. He faced abduction and murder charges tied to crimes that authorities now think all occurred last Wednesday.
Eisenhauer faces a sentence of 20 years to life if convicted for first-degree murder, the same sentence 19-year-old Keepers could face if convicted of accessory before the fact.
During an emotional statement Tuesday, Nicole’s mother, Tammy Weeks, talked about how the girl she called “Coley” had consistently beat the odds.
First, there was a rare tumor in her liver that was diagnosed as a baby. Then there was a lymphoma fight that led relatives to think they’d “almost lost her a second time.” And third, there was a bout with acute respiratory syndrome and antibiotic-resistant staphylococcus that led doctors to give her a mere 1% chance to make it.
Somehow, Nicole survived all that. Her biggest victory of all may have been having a normal life, as someone who loved pandas and dancing, and dreaming of making it big on “American Idol.”
“Nicole was a very lovable person,” her mother said. “Nicole touched many people throughout her short life.”
At that point, a trembling, sobbing Weeks abruptly left the press podium and the room. Josh Blankenship, a pastor at Auburn Baptist Church, finished her statement.
“Our hearts still ache in sadness and secret tears still flow,” Blankenship said. “What it meant to lose you, no one will ever know.”
Victim described as ‘cutest little thing’
Earlier, Blacksburg police Chief Anthony Wilson spent part of Tuesday morning speaking with Weeks, leaving the family’s apartment around 10:45 a.m.
Outside the ground-floor unit, one of 120 or so in the Lantern Ridge Apartments complex, there was evidence of more carefree times: a bicycle, a yellow Tonka truck, a few plastic chairs. A small bouquet of pink and white flowers rested on a table, in the low 40-something temperatures, a reminder of the family’s inconceivable loss.
As Nicole’s friend Sarah Bradbury told CNN affiliate WBDJ this past weekend, “I didn’t think that would happen to her because she was always the cutest little thing.”
Earlier, Weeks described her daughter to The Washington Post as “a typical student” at Blacksburg Middle School despite all her past health struggles. She dealt with bullies over her weight and scars, according to her mother.
The university the suspects attended dominates Blacksburg. Lantern Ridge sits amid the maze of mostly student housing roughly a half mile from Main Street, which goes downtown to the Virginia Tech campus.
Despite their age difference, Eisenhauer — a celebrated cross-country runner in Columbia, Maryland, prior to coming to Virginia Tech — at least knew Nicole before her disappearance, according to police.
“We have determined that Eisenhauer and Nicole were acquainted prior to her disappearance,” Blacksburg police Lt. Mike Albert told reporters last weekend. “Eisenhauer used this relationship to his advantage to abduct and then kill her.”
Police arrested Eisenhauer student late Friday night. He was already facing charges the next morning, before Nicole’s body was found.
Eisenhauer did not lead authorities to the body, according to Blacksburg’s police chief, nor did he confess to murder. Still, authorities managed to piece things together after sorting through social media, exploring 300-plus tips and searching for other information pertinent to the case.
“These are the kind of crimes,” Wilson said last weekend, “that rip communities apart.”