BLACKSBURG, Va. — Two Virginia Tech students appeared in court Monday in the death of a 13-year-old girl who apparently climbed out her bedroom window, but the events that led to her killing remained a mystery.
David Eisenhauer, 18, has been charged with kidnapping and first-degree murder in the death of 13-year-old Nicole Madison Lovell, who endured a liver transplant and bullying at school and online. Her body was found Saturday in North Carolina, four days after she left home, police said.
Natalie Keepers, 19, faces charges of improper disposal of a body and accessory after the fact in the commission of a felony.
Both are engineering majors whose futures seemed bright. Eisenhauer was a star runner in high school who looked forward to years of competition on the Hokies' top Track and Field team. Neither had criminal records, according to their arrest warrants.
Eisenhauer appeared briefly in court, out of sight of reporters, ahead of the scheduled 10 a.m. hearing. Eisenhauer retained a court-appointed attorney, the clerk's office said.
Keepers also appeared, handcuffed and shackled in an orange jumpsuit. She told Judge Robert Viar Jr. that she understands the charges and that she had also retained counsel. Her next court date is March 28.
Police said they have evidence showing Eisenhauer knew the girl before she disappeared, but have not said anything about a possible motive. As for the means, the arrest warrant says no gun was used in the crime.
Her family said they discovered Wednesday morning that she had apparently blocked her bedroom door with furniture and climbed out a window overnight.
"Eisenhauer used this relationship to his advantage to abduct the 13-year-old and then kill her. Keepers helped Eisenhauer dispose of Nicole's body," a Blacksburg police statement said.
Authorities said they located her remains on Saturday in Surry County, North Carolina, just over the Virginia border.
Blacksburg police Chief Anthony Wilson told The Roanoke Times that Eisenhauer has not confessed and did not provide information that led to the body.
A state police search and recovery team has been searching a pond on the Virginia Tech campus, but state police spokeswoman Corinne Geller would not say what they were looking for.
Nicole's life was not easy, her mother, Tammy Weeks, told The Washington Post (http://wapo.st/201JsDS). She survived a liver transplant, MRSA (a drug-resistant staph infection) and lymphoma when she was 5, Weeks said.
"God got her through all that, and she fought through all that, and he took her life," Weeks said.
Nicole didn't like going to school because girls called her fat and talked about the scars from her transplant, and she often cried to stay home, Weeks said.
"It got so bad I wouldn't send her," Weeks said, but the bullying continued on social media.
She loved pandas and pop music, and wanted to be on "American Idol" when she got older, her mother said.
Davy Draper, a close family friend who knew the teen most of her life, called her an energetic and outspoken girl who got along with everyone.
"She was an awesome little girl. She was an angel here on Earth, and she's an angel now," Draper said Sunday.
Both Eisenhauer and Keepers, who came to Virginia Tech from nearby cities in Maryland, were being held without bond at the Montgomery County Jail.
Eisenhauer was a standout track and field athlete in high school, who was named Boys Indoor Track Performer of the Year by The Baltimore Sun in March. The Sun said Eisenhauer had moved to Columbia from Yakima, Washington, for his junior year and quickly became a star on the East Coast. His coach told the newspaper that Eisenhauer was "the best-kept secret in Maryland."
Both Eisenhauer and Keepers enrolled as freshman engineering majors at Virginia Tech, where hundreds of students and researchers had joined the search for Nicole's body. Eisenhauer has been suspended from the university, a Virginia Tech statement said.
A number listed for Eisenhauer's parents rang busy. A message left at Keepers' home in Laurel, Maryland, was not immediately returned. Nicole's family members did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
Associated Press writers Larry O'Dell and Alanna Durkin Richer contributed from Richmond, Virginia.
This story has been corrected to show that she was discovered missing Wednesday morning, not Wednesday night, and to show that the comments from Nicole Lovell's mother came from The Washington Post, not The Roanoke Times.