A retired Navy veteran was charged with kidnapping and murder Wednesday in the case of Ashanti Billie, a 19-year-old college student who was found dead in September 300 miles from where she went missing, PEOPLE confirms.
Eric Brian Brown, 45, was charged by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Norfolk, Virginia, with kidnapping Billie, a student at the Art Institute of Virginia Beach. Also on Wednesday, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina, police charged Brown with murder.
He faces life in prison if he is convicted, and remains in custody in Norfolk, Virginia, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
He has not yet entered a plea to any of the charges against him, and it wasn’t immediately clear if he has retained an attorney.
Following the announcement of Brown’s arrest, Billie’s family issued the following statement through a spokesperson, local news station WCNC reports: “The entire Billie family would like to extend their deepest thanks and gratitude to the FBI, Virginia Beach, and Norfolk Police Departments, and NCIS for their attention and investigations regarding their daughter, Ashanti Billie,” the statement says.
The statement continues: “They would like to extend their heartfelt thanks to all that helped and came forward with tips. At the current time, the family needs time to process the information but will be making a public statement soon. Thank you.”
Brown Says He ‘Blacked Out’ During Time Period When Billie Vanished
Brown allegedly abducted Billie on Sept. 18 when she arrived for work at a Blimpie sandwich shop on the Joint Expeditionary Base — Little Creek in Norfolk at around 5 a.m. that morning, according to the criminal complaint from the U.S. Attorney’s Office obtained by PEOPLE..
On Sept. 29, Billie’s body was found behind a church in Charlotte, North Carolina — more than 300 miles from where she disappeared in Norfolk and about 300 yards from Brown’s childhood home, the complaint states.
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According to the complaint, Brown, a 21-year Navy veteran, worked as a day laborer and helped build the sandwich shop where Billie was working at the time of her disappearance. Authorities believe Brown is homeless and reportedly lived at facilities and buildings on and off the naval bases, the complaint states.
Frequently seen visiting the sandwich shop where Billie worked, witnesses reported seeing Brown allegedly trying to flirt with Billie on several occasions, the complaint states. One witness recalled hearing a conversation in which Brown allegedly made a crude sexual comment directly to Billie, the complaint alleges.
Video surveillance shows Billie’s Mini Cooper car entering the base at 4:58 a.m. on Sept. 18. The footage shows the car – driven by someone wearing different-colored clothing – leaving the base at about 5:33 a.m., the complaint states.
A surveillance camera in a residential area then shows a man getting out of her Mini Cooper at about 5:44 a.m. and tossing something into a construction dumpster.
Hours later, construction workers found Billie’s cell phone in that dumpster.
During an interview with investigators on October 27, Brown allegedly said he was on the base on the evening of September 17 – but he said “he blacked out and had no recollection of what he did for several days after that,” a release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Norfolk alleges.
Male DNA found on Billie’s body and clothing was compared to Brown’s: The probability of the DNA profile belonging to any other person was found to be 1 in 2.7 quadrillion, the complaint states.
Brown was questioned about Billie’s disappearance on Oct. 10 and said he didn’t know anything about it, the complaint alleges.
On Oct. 27, one of Brown’s former construction co-workers told investigators that he recognized Brown from the surveillance video, adding that he’d given Brown the clothes the man in the video was wearing.