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Va. Tech freshmen together plotted slaying of teenage girl, prosecutor says

The Washington Post The Washington Post 4/02/2016 By Moriah Balingit and Justin Jouvenal

This January 2016 photo provided by Blacksburg Police Department shows Virginia Tech student Natalie Keepers, who was arrested in connection with the death of Nicole Madison Lovell. (Blacksburg Police Department via AP) This January 2016 photo provided by Blacksburg Police Department shows Virginia Tech student Natalie Keepers, who was arrested in connection with the death of Nicole Madison Lovell. (Blacksburg Police Department via AP) BLACKSBURG, Va. — A Virginia Tech freshman was intimately involved in the plan to kill a 13-year-old Blacksburg, Va. girl, helping a college classmate pick a remote spot for the slaying, buying a shovel with him and ultimately disposing of Nicole Lovell’s body, a prosecutor said Thursday.

Natalie Keepers, 19, told investigators that she wanted to be part of something “secretive and exciting,” according to Montgomery County, Va. prosecutors Mary Pettitt, who laid out the allegations during a hearing at which a judge denied her bond request in Christiansburg, Va.

“To be involved in the homicide of someone she didn’t know at all is just astonishing,” Pettitt said.

Keepers is accused of assisting another Virginia Tech student, David Eisenhauer, 18, of Columbia, Md., who has been charged with abducting and killing Nicole. The middle schooler disappeared on Jan. 27, sparking a multi-day search, and her body was found last weekend just across the North Carolina border.

Keepers’s attorney did not directly address the charges against her at the bond hearing, but said he wanted the opportunity to prepare a strong defense and “explain some of it.”

[Prosecutors say teen was stabbed to death

Two law enforcement officials have said Eisenhauer had sexual contact with the 13-year-old girl after meeting her online and used their relationship to lure her out of her home.

Tammy Weeks, Nicole’s mother, said she discovered a night stand pushed up against the door to Nicole’s room and a window ajar on the day she disappeared. Authorities said it was likely Nicole was stabbed to death the same day.

Keepers, petite and wearing glasses, entered the courtroom wearing an orange jumpsuit and with her hands shackled.

Eisenhauer and Keepers, of Laurel, Md., were close friends at Virginia Tech, having both come from nearby Maryland high schools. It was Eisenhauer who rushed Keepers to the hospital when she had appendicitis in the fall.

This undated photo provided by the Blacksburg Police Department shows Virginia Tech student David Eisenhauer, who was charged with first-degree murder in the death of Nicole Madison Lovell. (Blacksburg Police Department via AP) This undated photo provided by the Blacksburg Police Department shows Virginia Tech student David Eisenhauer, who was charged with first-degree murder in the death of Nicole Madison Lovell. (Blacksburg Police Department via AP) In January, Pettitt said, Keepers began helping Eisenhauer plot to kill Nicole. The two college students had “bounced ideas about the best ways to commit a murder,” Pettitt said. The prosecutor and police have said nothing about a motive for the slaying.

The two discussed nearly every aspect of the murder, Pettitt said. Keepers went along as they decided where Nicole should be killed — a remote area outside of Blacksburg. They discussed the murder at a cookout in Blacksburg and Keepers went with him to purchase a shovel — to bury Nicole’s body — and cleaning supplies.

They decided, Pettitt said, that Eisenhauer “would take her to a remote location and cut her throat.”

Law enforcement officials said Eisenhauer, a cross-country runner, had sexual contact with Nicole, who lived in Blacksburg and attended Blacksburg Middle School. They said she was lured from her house as part of the slaying plot.

Nicole was reported missing the morning of Jan. 27. Her cell phone and a blanket with Minions cartoon characters printed on it also were missing.

The blanket and cleaning supplies were later found in a suitcase in Keeper’s dorm room, officials said.

Pettitt said investigators immediately dug deep into Nicole’s history on social media, where she had laid bare her heartbreak and anguish over boys and, according to her mother, sought solace from the taunting and bullying she endured in the real world.

Pettitt said they discovered she had been corresponding with Eisenhauer, sending her last missive at around 12:40 a.m. on the morning she went missing.

In this 2015 photo provided by Tammy Weeks, her daughter, Nicole Lovell, flashes a peace sign in Blacksburg, Va. The 13-year-old girl was found dead just across the state line in Surry County, N.C., and two Virginia Tech students are charged in the case. (Tammy Weeks via AP) In this 2015 photo provided by Tammy Weeks, her daughter, Nicole Lovell, flashes a peace sign in Blacksburg, Va. The 13-year-old girl was found dead just across the state line in Surry County, N.C., and two Virginia Tech students are charged in the case. (Tammy Weeks via AP) In his first interview with police, Eisenhauer admitted to seeing the middle schooler shortly before she went missing, Pettitt said, but he said he had just driven to her apartment complex and that the girl had come over to his car to give him “a side hug,” and that he had left.

Keepers, in two interviews with police, revealed that Eisenhauer had said he killed the middle schooler and also told them that she had helped load her body into the trunk of Eisenhauer’s Lexus. She then helped him unload the body in a remote area just across the border in North Carolina.

Keepers’ attorneys painted her as a bookish and quiet teen with strong academic prospects. Keepers also testified during the hearing that she was bullied in middle school, and told the judge she started cutting herself and contemplated suicide. Keepers has two brothers and a sister.

Tim Keepers, Natalie’s father, testified on her behalf in requesting bond. He told the judge that his daughter had never been in any trouble. He described his family as a “pretty close, very strong Christian family.”

Keepers wanted to become an aerospace engineer like her father.

“She wanted to follow in my footsteps,” Tim Keepers said, breaking down into tears. He said he was shocked by the charges against his daughter.

“She was an absolutely wonderful role model to my other kids,” Tim Keepers said.

Keepers and Eisenhauer were both engineering students at Virginia Tech, and friends said they appeared to have bright futures. Keepers hoped to work for NASA, and Eisenhauer was a standout runner.

A friend of Nicole’s told The Washington Post on Wednesday that she reported to officials at Blacksburg Middle School that she feared Nicole was having a relationship with an adult and that she had posted about the relationship on Facebook.

[Friend says she warned school about Lovell’s relationship with older man]

Keepers has been charged with accessory before the fact to first-degree murder, accessory after the fact and concealing a body. The most serious charge carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Attorneys for Eisenhauer have declined to comment, but in court documents Eisenhauer is said to have told investigators: “I believe the truth can set me free.”

Jouvenal reported from Washington.

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