COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A man who did yard work for the family of a missing 15-year-old Columbia girl has been charged with kidnapping her after her blood was found on duct tape near his home, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said.
The sheriff was holding out hope that Gabrielle Swainson will be found alive, and more than 100 officers are combing through a junkyard across from the suspect's home in Elgin on Tuesday looking for the missing teen.
"I haven't given up hope of finding her and bringing her home. That's what we're operating under, that she can be found," Lott said. "He's only charged with kidnapping."
Freddie Grant., 52, was uncooperative when investigators first asked him if he knew where Swainson was and hadn't been any more helpful since he was charged with kidnapping on Monday.
Swainson was last seen around 4 a.m. on Aug. 18 when her mother put her cellphone in her hand as she left her home in the suburbs northeast of Columbia to catch up on paperwork in her job as a workman's compensation claims adjuster. When the mom returned home several hours later, her daughter's alarm clock was ringing and her only child, nicknamed Gabbiee, was gone. All the teen's clothes, her purse and her cellphone charger were still in the home, authorities said.
Investigators began questioning the family and anyone who knew the girl. Grant was an obvious target because he was a convicted felon and deputies became even more suspicious when he refused to cooperate, Lott said.
Bullets were found in his home, leading to a federal weapons charge. That led to more searches, which uncovered his DNA and Gabbiee's DNA on duct tape with blood on it found near his house, the sheriff said.
Cell phone records show Grant was near Swainson's home around the time she disappeared and both of them appeared to end up at Grant's home, the sheriff said.
Grant is being held without bail at the Lexington County jail. It wasn't clear if he had a lawyer.
Swainson's mother has been tirelessly looking for her daughter in the 10 days she has been missing. She has handed out hundreds of flyers and stopped traffic at a busy street near her home to ask drivers if anyone had seen the teen. She couldn't be reached Tuesday, but Lott said the news devastated her.
"She surrounded her whole life around Gabbiee. Took her places, did things with her. That's one of the reasons she was out at work," Lott said.
The case could expand further. Investigators said a 28-year-old woman who lived with Grant in Elgin has been missing for nearly a year. Adriana Laster disappeared in September 2011, but wasn't reported missing until March of this year by her grandmother in Homestead, Fla., Elgin Police Chief Harold Brown said.
Grant and Laster lived together and had a troubled relationship. Brown said his officers were called to their home several times, culminating in an April 2011 charge of criminal domestic violence against Grant. Police pressed forward with the misdemeanor even though Laster asked them to drop the case. Grant was convicted and paid a fine, Brown said.