Human remains discovered in search for missing UVA student

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CNN) — The University of Virginia student who went missing last month — found human remains Saturday in Albemarle County, police said Saturday.

Chesterfield County Sheriff’s Department members aiding in the search made the discovery “sometime before noon (on) an abandoned property” in southern Albemarle County, said Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy Longo.

Shortly thereafter, a Charlottesville detective relayed the news to Graham’s parents.

“These are human remains and forensic tests need to be conducted to determine the identification of those remains,” Longo told reporters. “But nonetheless we wanted to be quick and timely to share that information with the Graham family.”

The discovery comes 35 days after Graham was last seen, on several surveillance cameras, in Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall area. That footage showed her leaving the Tempo Bar at around 2 a.m. on September 13, as well as a man — later identified by authorities as Jesse Matthew, 32 — following her.

On September 24, Matthew was taken into custody while camping on a beach in Galveston, Texas, some 1,300 miles from Charlottesville. He is the only person detained in connection with Graham’s disappearance, charged with abduction with the intent to defile.

He has also been linked by forensic evidence to the case of Morgan Harrington, a 20-year-old Virginia Tech student who was last seen hitchhiking along U.S. 29 outside of Charlottesville in October 2009. She was found dead on a nearby farm the following January.

No arrests have been made in Harrington’s case, and the cause of her death still is under investigation. Police, though, did recently seize a cab owned by Matthew that he was driving in Charlottesville in 2009, a source with knowledge of the investigation told CNN.

Matthew’s next court appearance in relation to Graham’s disappearance is scheduled for December 4.

Officials didn’t say whether charges against anyone were imminent in light of Saturday’s discovery.

Albemarle County Police Chief Steve Sellers did appeal to anyone who was in or knows the area in which the remains were found to contact authorities if they saw “any suspicious activity” or “an individual fitting Jesse Matthew’s description in that area about that time.”

“Today’s discovery is a significant development, and we have a great deal of work ahead of us,” said Sellers, noting Graham’s case is now considered a “death investigation.” “We cannot and we will not jump to any conclusions.”

The 18-year-old Graham was in her second year at the University of Virginia — a member of the ski team and making straight A’s, her parents say — when she was last seen.

“She was extremely smart, very witty, very athletic,” said Craig Maniglia, the coach of the high school softball team that Graham co-captained.

Her last contact with friends — telling them she was lost and trying to find a party, according to CNN affiliate WVIR — came via text message at 1:20 a.m. the morning of September 13.

Her disappearance prompted a massive search involving more than 1,200 volunteers, not to mention emotional appeals from officials like Longo and Graham’s parents.

Earlier this week, John and Sue Graham pleaded for help finding their daughter, saying, “It is heartbreaking for us that the person or persons who know where Hannah is have not come forward with that information. It is within their power … to end this nightmare for us all.”

Her friends hadn’t relented, either.

In a statement released to CNN, they asked ‘that everyone in Charlottesville and surrounding areas be on the lookout for new clues. No clue is too small and every search of personal property, even if it does not yield a result, is helpful.”

Their efforts continued as recently as Saturday, with the “Help Find Hannah Graham” Facebook page posting pictures of various volunteers handing out ribbons to businesses in downtown Charlottesville.