In high school, she was known as the “smart, sassy Hannah Graham.”
“Hannah was always able to steal the show,” her father, John Graham, told the Associated Press at a Nov. 15 celebration of life memorial at her alma mater, West Potomac High School, in Alexandria, Virginia.
Nearly 1,000 of Graham’s family, teachers, professors and friends from high school and the University of Virginia packed into WPHS’s auditorium to commemorate the 18-year-old’s short but accomplished and well-lived life.
Graham, a sophomore at the University of Virginia, vanished in the early hours of Sept. 13 in Charlottesville, Virginia, after she was seen on surveillance videos wandering around a downtown pedestrian mall near the university.
Police found her remains on Oct. 18 on a vacant property in Albemarle County – five miles from where she had last been seen. On Sept. 24, police arrested Jesse Leroy Matthew, Jr., 32, the last person believed to have been seen with her, on charges of abduction with intent to defile.
Authorities say DNA evidence has also linked Matthew to a 2005 sexual assault in Fairfax, Virginia, and to the 2009 disappearance and death of Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington, 20. Matthew pleaded not guilty on Nov. 14 in Fairfax, Virginia, to felony counts related to the 2005 attack.
At the emotionally charged memorial, speaker after speaker told stories about the upbeat, outgoing teen who was always quick with a smart remark. Close friends Rachel Campbell and Hannah O’Neil recalled how Graham, who moved to the United States from England when she was in kindergarten, insisted on “bringing her own British chocolate because Hershey’s was not up to her standards” when she made her first s’more by a campfire.
“She had a great wit – it could be snarky at times, but that’s what we loved about her,” said Steve Rice, who was Graham’s high school band teacher when she played alto saxophone with the jazz ensemble and marching band. During the memorial, Rice led the band in two of Graham’s favorite songs by her idol, Elvis Presley: “Can’t Help Falling in Love” and “Love Me Tender.”
Her former high school history teacher, Nicole Borghard, said Graham was such a good student that she would check the answer key for mistakes if the teen had gotten something wrong – often finding that Graham was correct. She also said that she and her colleagues hoped Graham would be assigned to their classes so they could teach the student known as “the smart, sassy Hannah Graham.”
Her parents, John and Sue Graham, thanked the community for the support it has given the family, including those thousands of volunteers who helped search for their daughter for more than a month.
Her family is still reeling from the loss of the young woman who touched so many. “We think she would have made important contributions to society in the years ahead,” said John Graham.
• Withl reporting by the ASSOCIATED PRESS