Amanda Strous's wedding was set for July

By Harriet Sokmensuer
June 21, 2016 03:10 PM
Source: Facebook

A 27-year-old North Carolina college counselor who planned to marry her longtime boyfriend in July was allegedly murdered by a man who then set an apartment fire to cover the crime up, PEOPLE confirms.

According to a press release from the Nye County Sheriff’s Office, Charlotte firefighters were called to the apartment of Amanda Strous on Saturday morning. First responders took Amanda to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

Two days later, investigators arrested Mathew Thomas Benner, 28, for Strous’ murder. According to the press release, Benner was found sleeping in his truck at a Best Western hotel in Nevada, and authorities tracked him down after using his cell phone’s GPS system.

According to the release, Benner confessed to Strous’ murder while being questioned by investigators. He will be charged with murder and first-degree arson.

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Mathew Thomas Benner
Courtesy of Nye County Sheriffs Office

Writing Thank You Notes For Bridal Shower

Amanda’s father, Eric, tells PEOPLE Amanda had begun working at Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte six months ago as counselor to students and loved her job.

“[Amanda] really wanted to make a difference in this world,” he says. “She had a need to help others and really tried to help people find themselves if they were lost.”

Amanda played field hockey in high school and received an athletic scholarship to Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania where she received a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a masters in counseling. She and her fiancé, Cory McCleaf met in 2008 at school and got engaged last July. The family was excited for Amanda to start a new chapter of her life.

“My daughter was in love and [as a dad] that’s great,” Eric says. “She was full of life.”

Amanda dreamed of having three children and running her own private practice in Chapel Hill, her father says. She told her family she hoped to live well into her nineties.

On the night of her death, Amanda was writing thank you notes to her friends for her bridal shower. She was home alone when her alleged killer found his way into her apartment, Eric tells PEOPLE.

Authorities have not yet said was transpired next, but Eric says his daughter was dead before the fire was allegedly started.

“A fire set to cover up the murder my daughter. It was murder,” Eric says. “I just can’t believe my daughter is a statistic – she’s more than that.”

Eric tells PEOPLE Benner lived above his daughter and her roommate. Authorities have not yet released the motive for the alleged murder.

On Tuesday, a candlelight vigil was held in Amanda’s hometown of York, Pennsylvania. More than 300 people attended the vigil.

“We don t want this to be about her being a victim – that s not what this is about – this is about a tragic situation that should ve never happened,” Eric says.

“This is about a young woman who brought her light into this world from a very young age and used it to help others.”

Benner is currently being held in custody in Nevada and is awaiting extradition to North Carolina. He has not yet entered a plea.

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