Authorities in North Carolina have arrested a 20-year-old man they believe killed a woman along a trail near the Blue Ridge Parkway inn where they were both worked.
According to WGHP, Ashville resident Derek Shawn Pendergraft was arrested on suspicion of second-degree murder after local authorities received a call at about 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday reporting a missing woman. About three hours later, officials found a body at the bottom of an embankment.
Authorities later identified the body as that of 29-year-old Sara Ellis of Seminole, Florida.
When police first questioned Pendergraft, he said he and Ellis ended their shifts at around the same time Tuesday afternoon and decided to take a hike. He claimed they parted a short time later when it started raining and she decided to head home.
While he continued on the trail, the suspect told police that he later found the woman’s hat and umbrella upon returning. After he was unable to locate her, he said he returned to the inn to report her missing.
It was reportedly the manager who ultimately contacted authorities. Police say she later told police that Pendergraft admitted he killed Ellis when he reported the incident in her office.
The suspect reportedly told investigators that he blacked out before awakening to see the victim’s dead body.
As Fox News reported, Ellis was working at the Pisgah Inn as a summer job and had been in North Carolina since May. Its owner, Bruce O’Connell, said dozens of employees and the larger community are distraught over the senseless crime.
“People are walking around in shock and disbelief and really shook up,” he said.
It was unclear from available reports what her cause of death was, but authorities described bruises on her head and neck.
[Derek Shawn Pendergraft, Buncombe City-County Bureau of Identification]