Prosecutor says Nicole Madison Lovell died of stabbing the day she vanished

Tammy Weeks holds one of her slain daughter's stuffed pandas during a news conference in Blacksburg, Va., on Tuesday. Weeks says her 13-year-old daughter, Nicole Lovell, fought health problems all her life and had dreams of singing on "American Idol." [Allen G. Breed | Associated Press]
Tammy Weeks holds one of her slain daughter's stuffed pandas during a news conference in Blacksburg, Va., on Tuesday. Weeks says her 13-year-old daughter, Nicole Lovell, fought health problems all her life and had dreams of singing on "American Idol." [Allen G. Breed | Associated Press]
Published Feb. 3, 2016

BLACKSBURG, VA. — A preliminary investigation has concluded a 13-year-old Blacksburg girl was stabbed to death and she likely died on Jan. 27, the day she went missing from her home, a prosecutor said at a Tuesday news conference.

Montgomery County, Virginia, Commonwealth's Attorney Mary Pettitt also announced an additional count against one of the two Virginia Tech students charged in connection with the abduction and slaying of Nicole Lovell.

Natalie Keepers, 19, of Laurel, Maryland, has also been charged with accessory before the fact to first-degree murder. She had previously been charged with concealing Lovell's body and a misdemeanor accessory after the fact count.

Tammy Weeks, the mother of Nicole Madison Lovell, also spoke at the news conference, holding a stuffed panda bear clutched to her chest. She spoke in a hushed tones about her daughter's health struggles and love of pandas, but grew so emotional she was forced to stop.

A man finished her statement, saying: "Our hearts still ache in sadness."

Blacksburg police Chief Anthony Wilson said authorities had received around 400 tips from the public about the case. He said police would announce funeral arrangements for Nicole later on Tuesday afternoon.

The news conference provided a few new details, but still left many basic questions about the case unanswered. Authorities declined to take any questions from the media after their statements.

Police have not said what happened to Nicole after she disappeared from her home on Wednesday or revealed a motive for the slaying. They have not detailed exactly how David Eisenhauer, 18, of Columbia Maryland, met Nicole or the nature of their relationship.

Weeks spoke at length about her daughter, who she called "Coley." Nicole had a liver transplant as an infant and "fought for her life," finally coming home from the hospital after her first birthday.

"She tried to live a normal life," Weeks said. But then Weeks said Nicole was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma and spent six months in a coma after developing acute respiratory distress syndrome.

"At this point, we almost lost her for the second time," Weeks said.

Medical experts and physicians told Weeks that her daughter had a one percent chance of survival, but Weeks said "Coley once again beat the odds."

Nicole loved pandas, music, dancing and dreamed of being on American Idol one day.

As she spoke, Weeks began to tremble. She placed her hand to her chest.

"Nicole touched many people through her short life," Weeks said, before walking away from the podium, close to sobbing. "I can't do it."

A day earlier, the two Virginia Tech students facing charges related to the teen's death made initial court appearances. Eisenhauer is accused of abducting and killing Nicole. Authorities say Keepers helped dispose of her body.

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An arrest warrant, revealed Monday included a brief statement Eisenhauer had given to authorities: "I believe the truth can set me free."

Weeks said police told her Eisenhauer and Nicole met online, and that Eisenhauer used his relationship with Nicole to abduct and kill her.

Nicole went missing on Wednesday, after Weeks said she pushed a nightstand against her bedroom door and apparently climbed out a window that was found open. Her body was discovered on Saturday afternoon near the Virginia-North Carolina border.

Weeks had previously said her daughter needed to take daily medication for her liver transplant and she had been bullied at school. Police have not said whether either of those issues played a role in her death.

Eisenhauer was arrested early Saturday at his dorm at Virginia Tech and charged with abduction and first-degree murder. On Sunday, police arrested Keepers and charged her with felony counts related to helping dispose of Nicole's body. Both were engineering students.

Virginia State Police divers searched a pond on the Virginia Tech campus on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday looking for evidence related to the case. Officials declined to say what that evidence was, but said they were done searching the pond.

At the court hearing Monday, a judge set March 28 hearings for both defendants. Neither has entered a plea yet.

Weeks was not the only one remembering Nicole on Tuesday.

Blacksburg area resident Jane Lillian Vance once taught at Virginia Tech, where she met a student in her class named Morgan Harrington. In 2009, Harrington disappeared during a Metallica concert in Charlottesville. She was missing for more than 100 days, when her body was discovered in a field.

Vance was inspired by Morgan's life to join the national non-profit Save The Next Girl, founded by Harrington's parents, to advocate for young women who have gone missing.

Now Vance has been touched once again by the disappearance and death of one of her students. As an instructional assistant at Blacksburg Middle School, Vance was acquainted with Nicole Lovell, a seventh-grader.

"Nicole was very cheerful and innocent 13 year old who was full of kindness and wept at cruelty," Vance said. "She was a very innocent girl. I'm not saying naive. I'm saying a cheerful and undefiled child. She was a good-hearted little girl."

Vance said that she saw Nicole in the hallways. In a column she wrote in the Virginia Tech student newspaper, Vance described her as a "a little mountain angel," who wore pink and brown cowgirl boots but now will never outgrow them.

Vance said in an interview that she saw Nicole as a "child," and said that depictions of her as a "teenager" made the seventh-grader seem older than her years.

"I prefer to call her a child because her heart was innocent," Vance said.

Vance wrote that Nicole's life was "abbreviated" and ended by a predator.

"Her obituary is brief, isn't it?" Vance wrote in her column. "Cut, like a ribbon."