Concord police Chief Merl Hamilton took the search for the suspected killer of his 23-year-old daughter nationwide Monday morning, asking a network television audience for help.
Hamilton, joined by Concord Mayor Scott Padgett, asked viewers of ABC's "Good Morning America" to help Charlotte-Mecklenburg police catch Michael Neal Harvey, the 34-year-old registered sex offender suspected of killing Hamilton, a college student and youth swim instructor.
"I just want to get this guy now," Merl Hamilton said, his voice breaking several times. "I want to ask my law enforcement brothers and sisters across the country to help with this.
"I'm trying to stay strong. They know what it means, because the cameras are on, but they took my daughter, guys.
"Play it straight, play it by the rules, but you all get out there and find this guy for me. When it comes back my way, I'll pay you back."
Harvey, thought to be driving a stolen 1996 Chevy Blazer, remains at large Monday morning.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Deputy Chief Harold Medlock said early Sunday investigators thought Harvey might still be in the Charlotte area, but with nearly 36 hours having passed, the search is widening.
Investigators said there were no new developments early Monday morning, and police are asking for the public's help in locating Harvey or the SUV he is thought to be driving.
Hamilton's body was found Saturday night in a storage unit in southeast Charlotte, and police obtained a murder warrant for Harvey, who is on probation and has a lengthy criminal record.
Hamilton was seen on video surveillance leaving the Thomas Street Tavern in Plaza Midwood with a man early Wednesday morning. She had not been seen or heard from since leaving the restaurant.
Police have not said what evidence led them to Harvey or to Hamilton's body, which they found at the Mini-Storage Center in the 4500 block of Monroe Road.
Harvey already is awaiting trial on several other charges, including breaking into a motor vehicle in Gaston County and drug and firearm possession in Mecklenburg.
Meanwhile, Valerie Hamilton's family and friends were left to cope with the death.
Robin Varner told "Good Morning America" that she and the victim's other friends are stunned. "We don't understand how anyone could do this to someone so sweet and so kind."
Merl Hamilton told ABC-TV, “She was a good kid. She was a wonderful kid. She lived her life to take care of children. That’s all she wanted to do.
"She was the perfect daughter, and I miss her, and I need justice for her."
Padgett said, "There has been a tremendous outpouring of support from the community. We are all shocked by this."
The Hamiltons moved to Concord nine years ago, when Merl Hamilton became police chief. Valerie was 14, always outgoing and athletic. She was a swimmer at Concord High School.
Her mother and father were dedicated parents, often bringing their two daughters to official events in Concord, Padgett said.
"Chief Hamilton was and is close to his children," Padgett said. "He had good relations with them, and checked on them often. He's very proud of both of them."
In an interview with the Observer last Friday, Merl Hamilton said he and his daughters were very close.
"Valerie and I talk every night," he said. "We've always been close. The last time we talked before she went missing, it was about a homework assignment.
"She was having problems getting the assignment attached to an email, so she could send it to a teacher. We talked for a while on the phone, and I was able to help her."
Speaking of Valerie and her 20-year-old sister, Sarah, Hamilton added, "Those girls are the love of my life."
Hamilton released a statement Sunday afternoon that referred to his wife, a teacher, according to his biography on a city website, and Sarah.
"Susanne, Sarah, and I are surrounded by family and friends at our home, and comforted by the outpouring of support from both those that know us and those that do not in this difficult time of grief," he said.
"Miss Valerie," as she was known to kids, had worked at Little Otter Swim School in southeast Charlotte for about three years, said the school's owner, John Kirk.
"She was a wonderful teacher and friend. The kids loved her," said Kirk. "She was known for singing - and singing loudly - which her kids loved. If a child came in crying, they would not cry for long," Kirk said.
More than 50 parents had written on the school's Facebook page with messages of sorrow by Sunday night.
Valerie Hamilton's missing-person case had attracted national attention, from the TV show "America's Most Wanted," which added the case to its alerts Saturday.
Police searched Valerie Hamilton's Arboretum-area apartment and the neighborhood around Thomas Street Tavern several times in recent days. Video surveillance from the restaurant led police to issue an alert for a man, thought to be in his mid- to late 30s, who was seen with Hamilton early that morning.
The search apparently moved to an east Charlotte hotel and to a home in north Charlotte on Saturday afternoon and evening.
Several police detectives visited the Econo Lodge on Independence Boulevard on Saturday evening and interviewed guests. Multiple broadcast reports Sunday indicated that someone resembling Harvey had stayed at the motel late last week but left Friday.
Police confirmed that Harvey's home in northern Mecklenburg County was searched sometime Saturday, but he was not there. Police have also contacted Harvey's friends and relatives in upstate New York, where they said he's originally from, and asked them to let authorities know if he shows up.
Auto theft warrants also have been issued for Harvey, police said, although he is not driving Hamilton's car. That vehicle was found parked near the Thomas Street Tavern.
According to court records, Harvey was convicted of first-degree sex offense in western New York state in 1996 and served four years in prison.
He has been in North Carolina at least six years, based on court records. In 2006, he was convicted of failing to register as a sex offender in Mecklenburg and given three years probation. In 2007, he was convicted of drug paraphernalia possession and driving with a revoked license in Iredell County and given 20 days in jail.
In June 2009, Harvey was convicted of felony larceny and breaking and entering in Mecklenburg. He was sentenced to 21/2 years supervised probation.
In September 2009, he was convicted of shoplifting in Iredell. He was sentenced to 24 hours of community service, fined $180 and banned from Lowe's.
Harvey was arrested twice last March. On March 15, he was arrested in Mecklenburg and charged with possession of drug paraphernalia, possession of heroin with intent to sell and possession of a firearm by a felon. Two weeks later, he was charged in Gaston County with breaking into a vehicle and injury to personal property.
He was released on bond both times and is scheduled to be tried later this month in both cases.
Observer news partner WCNC-TV contributed.
Read more: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2010/09/20/1705618/body-found-man-sought.html#ixzz104YQE9sJ