BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) — Two Virginia Tech students carefully planned the kidnapping and killing of a 13-year-old girl, buying cleaning supplies and a shovel at separate Wal-Mart stores, and then hiding her body in the trunk of a Lexus, a prosecutor alleged on Thursday.
Montgomery County Commonwealth's Attorney Mary Pettitt described how authorities believe David Eisenhauer and Natalie Keepers plotted the stabbing death of Nicole Lovell, a seventh-grader who had survived a liver transplant and cancer and used social media as an escape from bullying at school.
Pettit did not suggest a possible motive in court, or describe the killing itself, but said both college freshmen planned for Eisenhauer to cut the girl's throat at a remote location.
Keepers told the judge that she began cutting her own body after being bullied in school, and has been on Prozac and in therapy since then. Her lawyers argued that her mental health will unravel behind bars.
But the prosecutor urged the judge to keep her jailed. Keepers is adamant that she was not present at the killing, but "is in the same position as the person who carried out the murder," Pettitt said.
Judge Robert Viar Jr. denied bail.
It was the messages on the missing girl's phone that led police to Eisenhauer, Pettitt said.
He initially denied his involvement, but later told authorities he drove to the girl's home and watched her climb out of her window the day she vanished. Eisenhauer said he greeted her with a side hug and then brought her to Keepers, Pettitt said.
Eisenhauer, an 18-year-old distance runner at Virginia Tech, is jailed without bond on charges of kidnapping and first-degree murder. To police, he said "I believe the truth will set me free."
Keepers, 19, is charged with aiding her fellow engineering major before and after the crime, and helping to hide the body.
Nicole, whose remains were recovered Saturday in North Carolina, two hours south of campus, was being remembered Thursday at a private funeral.
By all accounts, the she was a lovely but awkward girl, clinging to childhood ways while also telling 8-year-old friends she planned to sneak out to meet her 18-year-old "boyfriend," a man named David whose picture she displayed on her phone.
Police said she probably carried her "Minions" blanket with her when she vanished.
Like others her age, Nicole was tech-savvy, posting on Facebook and chatting using the Kik messenger app. But she also had to take daily medicine to keep her transplanted liver from failing, and survived other harrowing health problems that left her with a tracheotomy scar in her neck.
Defense lawyers argued that Keepers had a troubled past of her own, and would become mentally unstable if kept in isolation for her own protection from other inmates.
Shackled, handcuffed and wearing orange jail garb, Keepers told the judge she's not getting her full dosage of anti-anxiety medicine in jail.
"I've learned how to love myself and to take care of myself and deal with any stress that I have," Keepers said, describing how she had promised a friend that if she stopped cutting herself, she would get a tattoo of a semi-colon, representing that her life was not ending, but taking a new path.
Her father, Tim Keepers, said he and his wife, Sara, learned of Eisenhauer in October, and that the young man had "dropped everything" last year to rush their daughter to a hospital for an emergency appendectomy.
Eisenhauer and Keepers went to high schools five miles apart in Columbia, a planned community between Baltimore and Washington that's known for highly rated public schools and competitive athletics.
Excelling in the classroom and on the track, Eisenhauer drew raves from his coach and principal at Wilde Lake High School, and was focused on competing with top college runners.
Keepers displays a packed resume on her LinkedIn profile, including a summer internship with NASA, where she made how-to videos for engineers. She planned for follow her father's footsteps into aerospace engineering, Tim Keepers said.
Sara Keepers, an X-ray technician, said the whole situation is "devastating."