Nathaniel Rowland, 24, was charged with murder and kidnapping in the death of Samantha Josephson, 21

By Rachel DeSantis
March 31, 2019 12:23 PM
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samantha-josephson
Credit: Columbia Police Dept.

A suspect has been arrested in connection with the death of Samantha Josephson, a South Carolina college student who authorities say mistakenly entered the suspect’s vehicle believing it was an Uber.

Nathaniel Rowland, 24, was charged with murder and kidnapping after an officer spotted his black Chevy Impala, which matched the vehicle Josephson was seen entering on video footage, and conducted a traffic stop, Chief William Holbrook of the Columbia Police Department said at a press conference on Saturday.

Josephson, a 21-year-old University of South Carolina senior from New Jersey, was last seen by friends at a bar in Columbia early Friday morning. Her roommates reported her missing around 1:30 a.m., and Holbrook said her body was found by hunters in rural Clarendon County around the same time.

nathaniel-rowland
Nathaniel Rowland
| Credit: Columbia Police Dept.

“A body had been found by a couple people hunting in a field that was described by the sheriff’s office to us as a wooded area in a very rural part of the county, about 40 feet off a dirt road, where it would be very difficult to get to unless you knew how to get there,” he said.

Meanwhile, a K-9 officer on the lookout for a black Chevy Impala spotted one blocks away from where Josephson disappeared and initiated a traffic stop around 3 a.m. Saturday.

When asked to step out of the car, the driver fled on foot, and was apprehended after a short chase, Holbrook said.

Investigators found a large amount of dark-colored liquid later determined to be Josephson’s blood in the car’s trunk and passenger compartment, Holbrook said. Her cell phone was also found in the car, as was a container of liquid bleach, germicidal wipes and window cleaner, according to the police chief.

Holbrook also noted that the car’s child safety locks were activated, preventing any type of escape from the backseat.

After being separated from her friends during a night out at the bar Bird Dog, Josephson summoned an Uber just after 2 a.m. and waited outside for the ride to arrive, Holbrook said.

“We believe… that she simply mistakenly got into this particular car thinking it was an Uber ride,” Holbrook said. “She opened the door and got into it and departed with the suspect driving.”

Holbrook said Josephson’s body was found in a location well known to the suspect, and near an area where he recently lived.

Rowland was booked into the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center on Saturday, according to online jail records. It was not immediately known if the suspect retained an attorney who could comment on his behalf.

The Columbia Police Department and a spokesperson for the detention center did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment on the suspect’s bail amount or his next appearance in court.

Josephson was a political science major from Robbinsville, New Jersey. She planned to go to the Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law in Philadelphia upon graduating in May, according to The State.

Holbrook said he had spoken to her heartbroken family just before addressing the media.

“Our hearts are broken. They’re broken. There is nothing tougher than to stand before a family and explain how a loved one was murdered,” he said. “They have a lot of support here, they have a lot of family that’s come to town to support them. But it was gut-wrenching. Words really can’t describe what they’re going through.”

Josephson’s death was first confirmed Saturday in a letter by University of South Carolina President Harris Pastides, as well as by her father Seymour Josephson in an emotional Facebook post.

“It is with tremendous sadness and of a broken heart that I post this!” he wrote alongside a photo of him sitting on a couch with Samantha. “I will miss and love my baby girl for the rest of life. Samantha is no longer with us but she will not be forgotten. It is extremely hard to write this and post it but I love her with all my heart. I could continue to write about her but it kills me. I sit here and cry while looking at the picture and write this.”

Pastides’ letter, meanwhile, urged students to be “active bystanders,” and to travel in groups, stick together and use the RAVE Guardian safety app, which allows users to set virtual safety timers and discreetly contact authorities.

Jordyn Spencer, a friend of Josephson’s, told The State on Friday that her disappearance had inspired other students to take safety precautions with their respective ride shares.

“We’re making sure everyone is checking their [ride-share service car] before they get in,” she said.

Uber’s community guidelines urge riders to double check both the identity of the driver and the make and model and license plate of the car before getting in.

A GoFundMe page set up to cover Josephson’s funeral costs has so far raised more than $30,000.