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Missing Virginia teen's body found by North Carolina church landscaper

By JANE HARPER | The Virginian-Pilot (Tribune News Service) | Published: October 1, 2017

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Maurice Stewart was riding a stand-on mower at the back of a church field near some boulders when he noticed an odor.

As he drew closer to one of the massive rocks that line a tall wooden fence, the stench grew worse.

“He thought he was going to come up on a deer or something,” said Lem Turner, owner of the landscape company where Stewart works. “But then he saw a foot, and he said, ‘That ain’t no animal and I’m out of here.’ ”

Stewart told his team leader, who went to look. What he found was horrific: the body of a partially clothed woman.

On Saturday, the FBI’s Norfolk office confirmed the body was that of 19-year-old Ashanti Billie, who had been reported missing 13 days earlier when she failed to show up for work at a Virginia Beach Navy base sandwich shop that morning or to her culinary arts classes later that day.

The FBI’s Norfolk office issued a statement announcing that a medical examiner had identified Billie. The office also offered its condolences to the family and pledged to find the young woman’s killer.

Billie’s mother, Brandy Billie, who spoke to reporters outside of a Virginia Beach hotel Saturday evening, thanked those involved in the search and said they “couldn’t ask for more, better community support.” Ashanti Billie was her only child.

Meltony Billie, the teenager’s father, said it wasn’t what they had hoped for, but that they are “OK with that.”

“Our desires and prayers were answered,” he said. “She’s home with God.”

Brandy Billie’s final comments were pointed and personal.

“To the person or persons that decided that they wanted to take our baby away from us, away from everyone who loved her: You are a coward. You don’t deserve to breathe the air that she breathed.”

The parents were notified Friday about the body in Charlotte. They learned Saturday that it was their daughter’s, according to Brandy Billie, who lives in Maryland and is divorced from her daughter’s father. Both parents serve in the Army.

They have been staying at a Virginia Beach hotel since Sept. 18, when they learned their daughter was missing.

She had recently started school at The Art Institute of Virginia Beach.

Her cellphone was found in a dumpster in Norfolk hours after she disappeared, and her car was discovered on a street in Ocean View five days later.

A team of investigators from the FBI and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department was at the scene Saturday. Crime-scene tape that had been taken down the day before was back up Saturday, roping off most of the church field. Officers in two police cars kept watch over the scene throughout the day. A bouquet of flowers had been placed in front of a boulder where investigators gathered when they first arrived.

A few of the investigators wore shirts with “CSI” on them. They walked up and down the partially mowed field, carrying orange marker flags, but did not place any in the ground.

The Rev. Michael McLean, pastor of East Stonewall AME Zion Church in the neighborhood of North Charlotte, where the body was found, said he was notified of the discovery shortly after it was made. He immediately headed to the church.

“The police were already here when I got here,” he said. “They were everywhere.”

McLean said the area is fairly quiet. The only problem spot is a townhouse development next to the church, he said.

“They have murders next door all the time. I mean if you were to look at our church van, you would see bullet holes in it.”

The boulders at the back of the church property apparently have become a hang-out spot, the pastor said. “Sometimes we find drug paraphernalia out there, but nothing of this level.”

The boulders were dug up when a new family life center was built. Church leaders decided to place them along the fence rather than haul them away.

The pastor spent most of Friday and Saturday fielding phone calls from reporters and church members who wanted to know what happened.

“That’s the big mystery for us,” he said. “Why here?”

The church is also across from single-family homes off Griers Grove Road northwest of where interstates 77 and 85 intersect.

It’s about 330 miles away from Ocean View .

Turner, the landscaping company owner, said his employees last worked at the church Sept. 16. He and his employees are checking in frequently with Stewart, who found the body. Turner described him as a gentle giant who was shaken by the discovery.

The other employee, the one who realized what they had found, can’t stop thinking about those who knew and loved her.

“He’s very sad for the family,” Turner said. “He just kept saying, ‘That’s somebody’s daughter. That’s somebody’s sister.’ ”

Statement from Martin Culbreth, Special Agent in Charge of the Norfolk Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation:

“It is with deep regret that I inform the community that Ashanti Billie has been located, deceased, in Charlotte, North Carolina. I, along with the entire investigative team, offer our most sincere condolences to the Billie family, especially Ashanti’s parents Brandy and Tony. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.

Thank you to the investigative team which includes the FBI, NCIS, Virginia Beach Police Department, and Norfolk Police Department for your tireless devotion to finding Ashanti. Your commitment to this effort demonstrates the true heart of law enforcement and I am proud of each and every one of you.

Our community should know that our work does not end here. Now our mission is to bring justice for Ashanti, and we will be relentless in our efforts to find who did this to her. We will not rest until the person who robbed Ashanti of her life, her promise and her future is held fully accountable under the law.

We are continuing to ask for the public’s assistance with the ongoing investigation. Anyone who may have information should contact the FBI Norfolk Field Office at (757)455-0100.

——

©2017 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)

Visit The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.) at pilotonline.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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