New York teenager Brittanee Drexel found dead after 13 years; man charged with murder
ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Authorities in South Carolina say they have made an arrest in connection with the disappearance of New York teenager Brittanee Drexel, who went missing during a spring break trip to Myrtle Beach in 2009.
At a Monday afternoon news conference, Georgetown County Sheriff Carter Weaver said they had charged Raymond Moody, 62, with murder, kidnapping and first-degree criminal sexual misconduct, all of which investigators believe occurred April 25, 2009, the day Brittanee Drexel disappeared.
Moody is also charged with obstructing justice for concealing and/or disposing of evidence of his crime.
Drexel’s body was found last Wednesday in Georgetown County, about 35 miles down the coast from where she disappeared. The discovery came after a flurry of tips and investigation that included Moody’s arrest May 4 on an obstruction of justice charge.
Weaver said that on May 11, the FBI recovered remains that were positively identified as Brittanee Drexel through DNA and dental records. Investigators believe she was buried there on April 26, 2009.
An arrest warrant for Moody alleges that he killed Brittanee Drexel by means of manual strangulation.
The teenager's mother, Dawn Drexel, thanked law enforcement officials for their tireless efforts and thanked the media for keeping her daughter's case in the public eye.
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"This is truly a mother's worst nightmare," Dawn Drexel said. "I am mourning my beautiful daughter today, as I have for the last 13 years. We are much closer to the peace that I have been hoping for."
Brittanee Drexel's father, Chad Drexel, said the news was bittersweet and acknowledged that there was more work ahead to bring his daughter's killer to justice.
"We have a little more closure than we wanted," he said. "Having faith and hope is what's going to guide us through to the end result."
Her parents said they would make plans to hold a memorial service in both Rochester and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, at some point.
Law enforcement officials from the local, state, and federal levels spoke during the briefing about how long they had worked to solve this case.
"For 13 years we'd been hoping for a different outcome," said FBI Special Agent Susan Ferensic. "In the last week, we confirmed that Brittanee lost her life in a tragic way, at the hands of a horrible criminal who was walking our streets."
Myrtle Beach Police Chief Amy Prock called the discovery bittersweet since they were able to bring some closure to the Drexel family, but "it's not the final chapter we had been hoping for," she said.
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Officials took no questions at the news briefing and did not say what information led them to the location of Brittanee Drexel's body or what evidence they had to bring charges against Moody after 13 years.
Moody had been identified as a person of interest in 2012. Police reportedly searched the hotel room where he was staying, which was located near where Brittanee Drexel's cellphone gave off its last signal.
Moody is being held at the Georgetown County Detention Center without bail. No date for his next court appearance has been announced.
Brittanee Drexel disappeared on spring break
The disappearance of Brittanee Marie Drexel in April 2009 captivated the community and nation. Her parents were going through a divorce, and the Gates Chili High School junior took advantage of the disruption at home to sneak away on a spring break trip after both parents forbade her to go.
The 17-year-old never returned.
Brittanee Drexel vanished while on the spring break trip to Myrtle Beach in 2009. She traveled south with friends, without her parents' knowledge or permission. On the third day of her trip — April 25, 2009 — she walked more than a mile from the hotel where she was staying to visit a friend at another resort. She stayed briefly before leaving to return to her own hotel room but never made it back.
The last image of the teen is security camera footage of her walking out of the Bar Harbor Motel wearing a multicolored shirt, black shorts, and flip-flops.
FBI agents in 2016 said they believe the teen was kidnapped, sexually assaulted, and fatally shot. While they said at the time it was not clear whether she left Myrtle Beach on her own, authorities said they believe the teen traveled to the area around McClellanville, South Carolina, and was killed there.
A signal from Brittanee Drexel's cell phone initially prompted searches in the Georgetown County area. Dozens of searches occurred there in the first few years. The trail eventually went cold.
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Also in 2016, court documents revealed that an informant told investigators that the 17-year-old was abducted, gang-raped, shot to death and thrown into an alligator-infested swamp.
An FBI agent testified that multiple searches failed to locate Brittanee Drexel's body, but said that "several witnesses have told us Miss Drexel's body was placed in a pit, or gator pit, to have her body disposed of. Eaten by the gators."
The announcement of Moody's arrest seems to cast a doubt on those accounts of what actually happened to the teen .
Break in the case came last week
According to the Georgetown County Sheriff's Office, Moody, has been in the Georgetown County Detention Center since May 4 on obstruction of justice charges.
Officials would not initially share details regarding the obstruction charge or whether it is connected to the Brittanee Drexel case. Multiple news outlets last week reported searches in South Carolina that appeared to be connected to Moody's arrest.
Moody, a registered sex offender, has been considered a person of interest in the teen's disappearance for years. He was stopped by police for a traffic violation in a beach town near Myrtle Beach one day after the teen disappeared.
Moody spent 21 years in prison stemming back to a 1983 abduction and rape case of a 9-year-old California girl, and he was considered the suspect in a number of similar rapes but was never charged.
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Brittanee Drexel case: Human remains found; Raymond Moody charged