Russell County Sheriff’s deputies are headed to New York state to retrieve a suspect in the murder of a 19-year-old Phenix City girl, authorities said Monday.
Christian Grissom, 27, has been named a suspect in the death of his second cousin, Keonte Chavis, Russell County Sheriff Heath Taylor said at a news conference.
Chavis’ body was found at about 5 p.m. Saturday in the woods on Ridge Road in Seale, Ala. Taylor said she appears to have been strangled to death. Police had been searching for her since Thursday.
Taylor said that Chavis was with Grissom until about 2 a.m. Thursday.
“Something went badly wrong at that point and Ms. Chavis was killed,” Taylor said.
The teen’s death does not appear to have been planned, Taylor said. But he said that Grissom has a “violent past.” Her body was found partially decomposed from the heat and rain. Investigators believe she was left in the woods since the search began Thursday.
Grissom was fleeing a warrant for missing a domestic violence court date where he lived in Jacksonville, Fla., when he stopped in Phenix City, Taylor said. He was staying with Chavis and her grandmother.
Family members say they first knew something was wrong when Chavis’ car was missing from her grandmother’s home Thursday morning. The 19 year old had an interview with Sam’s Club at 10 a.m., and it was unlike her to miss an appointment. Chavis’ mother said her suspicions were also raised when her daughter failed to call or text her.
“She was a warm person, and would never hurt anybody,” Nikisha Grissom said Monday afternoon.
Relatives asked Grissom, who was with Chavis the night before, where the missing teen was. He told family members he dropped Chavis off at an undisclosed location around 1 a.m., and then returned to the grandmother’s house. Grissom repeated the same story when he accompanied family members to the Phenix City Police Department to report Chavis missing, Taylor said.
“We believe we can show in this case that that is not true,” Taylor said. “He was still with her and when he left her, he left her on the side of the road.”
Shortly after the search for Chavis began, Grissom continued on to New York even though area family members begged him to stay until the investigation was complete. Later, Russell County investigators tried to convince him to come back for interviews. He refused.
Finally, the Sheriff’s Office issued a warrant for his arrest.
“We put enough evidence together to get a warrant for murder,” Taylor said. “He was in Plattekill, N.Y., where his mother lived. We were in contact with authorities there, the Ulster County Sheriff’s Office, and they answered our call and went to 10 Peace Road where they found Grissom.”
Chavis’ grandfather-in-law, Deams Green, said he suspected Grissom when the 27 year old showed no concern for Chavis’ whereabouts.
“It hadn’t dawned on me, like everyone else, that a family member would do that,” Green said. “When Chris finally showed back up, after the fog cleared for me, I assumed and felt in my heart that he was the one, because he left. And no one leaves their family members in a crisis like this.”
Investigators have developed a potential motive, but declined to elaborate further until Grissom is returned to Russell County, Taylor said. If Grissom waives extradition, he will return to Russell County by Tuesday or Wednesday. Russell County deputies are headed to New York as of Monday, Taylor, to retrieve the suspect.
Chavis’ great uncle, Darrell Grissom, said the victim was trying to lose weight and join either the U.S. Air Force or the U.S. Army. A former education student at Chattahoochee Valley Community College, Chavis planned to stay in the military for two years before deciding whether she wanted to take it on as a career.
“She was a loving and caring young lady,” Grissom said.