Inside the Search for Hannah Graham with Charlottesville's Police Chief
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Charlottesville Police Chief Tim Longo says they've covered a lot of ground looking for missing University of Virginia student Hannah Graham but he wants to do even more. Thursday he took us along on a search in a heavily wooded residential neighborhood in Albemarle County, showing us what trained searchers look for when on the hunt.
Longo says he will not stop searching for Graham, who has been missing since September 13, even if he is criticized for it. He is addressing the critics head-on, telling those who say he is wasting time and resources that he will honor the commitment he made on day one of the investigation.
Chief Longo says the ground search for Hannah Graham is a tedious one. They're going back over ground already covered starting Thursday, because he doesn't want to miss one thing. When asked if anything could be missed, Longo replied, "oh absolutely and that's why you go back sometimes more than once to search an area, because you might walk over something and not necessarily realize what it is you're stepping over until you go back and retrace your steps."
Longo says the extensive search for Hannah Graham is not an easy task. "This is the largest search operation that I've been part of,” he stated.
Between 60 and 100 searchers are out on any given day sifting through an eight-mile radius just off the Charlottesville downtown mall. That is where police believe Jesse Matthew abducted Graham on September 13, but he's not telling anything, so the search goes on.
Longo says the ground we covered Thursday pales in comparison to some of the terrain crews have been searching so far. "If you look at an area like this and multiply it five or six times over - and that's what we're dealing with in Albemarle County - lots of ground cover and brush."
More than 30 days into the search, Longo says he's not giving up any time soon. He has been criticized for keeping the search going and even accused of wasting resources. He says all he wants is to bring Graham home and his focus will not stray from that mission.
"We made a commitment to John and Susan Graham to find their daughter,” he stated. “It's a commitment we have to honor."
The extensive search for Graham has gone on for weeks but Longo refuses to throw in the towel. "Lots of folks ask, ‘When is the right time to stop? You need to think with your head. It's been a month. You're no further along perhaps. When are you going to say enough is enough?' I don't know the answer to that question."
From the beginning, he has been in the public eye, pleading for information in the investigation and not holding back any emotion. "I think lots of folks would like to say ‘You're a public servant, you're the police chief first.' It's kind of naive to think that. The police chief wears this uniform, but under this uniform is a person who can't help but to feel things and to be compassionate and to put on his dad hat or his husband hat."
The chief isn't the only one who has a hard time letting it go. Investigators are working around the clock without a day off since Graham disappeared.
"You're left wondering - am I doing everything I can do?” he said. “Is there something I haven't thought about, something I haven't prayed about?"
Something that will lead to finding a young girl; something to answer the heartbreaking question for her parents: what happened to Hannah?
"Perhaps this is the day we can reach out to John and Susan Graham and say that we've gotten to a place that we've been working so hard to get to. It's been 30 days and all of us have a sense of what that find might be, but nevertheless it's the opportunity to bring Hannah back to her parents with the dignity that she deserves."
Longo says if resources dwindle they'll rethink their position, but for right now he says they will continue to move forward.