Community appalled by mother’s murder, missing daughter
Did she leave voluntarily or was she abducted by the boyfriend of her mother who apparently was murdered in their home?
That’s the question some people are asking each other after seeing surveillance video from the Salem Walmart the night of Dec. 3, when 12-year-old Brittany Smith is shown walking out of the store about 8:30 p.m. with 32-year-old Jeffrey Scott Easley. He is pushing a shopping cart filled to overflowing with what appears to be camping supplies, bottles of milk and other groceries.
At two press conferences Tuesday, Roanoke County Police Chief Ray Lavinder reiterated that law enforcement officials – including 50 officers working on the case who are from the Roanoke County Police, Virginia State Police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Marshals Service and the U.S. Secret Service – continue to believe Brittany Smith is in extreme danger because she is missing from a home where there was a homicide.
Walmart officials told Salem Police that Easley used Tina Smith’s credit card Friday night, and consequently, Salem Police took out two felony warrants against him for attempted credit card fraud and credit card larceny.
Chief Lavinder asked anyone who was in the Salem Walmart during that time and who might remember seeing the two to contact police.
In the videotape provided by the store, Easley has a goatee and is wearing a white T-shirt and jeans. Brittany has on a short-sleeve orange top and jeans. She’s wearing several bracelets, including a bright green rubber one in memory of her 16-year-old brother, Tyler Matherly, who died in Johnson City, Tenn., while visiting his father.
He died from playing the “choking game,” Tina Smith told the Salem Times-Register after her son’s death in August 2009. She set up a website page to warn other parents of the dangers of young people choking themselves to the point of fainting and worse.
At the noon press conference, Lavinder issued a plea directed at Brittany Smith’s friends, asking them for help in finding her.
Police set up an e-mail address for that, email@example.com. The chief said police continue to be hopeful she will get in touch with someone in the Salem area, and will be found safe.
During the second press conference Tuesday at the Roanoke County Public Safety Building, Easley’s mother, Sallie Martin who lives in Franklin County, took the microphone to plead with her son wherever he is to bring Brittany home. His mother also urged him to call her or come to her house.
“I was worried from what I know about you and Brittany,” she said, in part. “I just want you to come home and I want you to be safe … We’ll help you work this out. I love you.”
Lavinder said Easley was last seen in Roanoke Friday and works for a local landscaping company. He has family in eastern North Carolina and northeastern Alabama.
According to news reports, Easley attended high school in Ayden, N.C., until he dropped out at age 17 after being arrested for assault with a deadly weapon against a government official. He married in Wilmington, according to WDBJ 7, divorced and married again in Huntsville, Ala.
Tuesday night, members of the Glenvar community who knew the Smiths held a candlelight vigil for them at Glenvar High School’s Highlander Stadium, the school’s football field.
The autopsy report from the state medical examiner still had not been released by Tuesday night, and the chief would not give details on how Tina Smith was killed other than to say her death is being investigated as a homicide.
The community first learned about her death and that Glenvar Middle School seventh-grader Brittany was missing when Virginia State Police on Monday morning issued an Amber Alert, used to alert the public about missing children.
Smith’s co-workers from Richfield Recovery and Care went to the house to check on Tina Smith who did not show up for work on Sunday nor Monday. One co-worker used a key to go in the house Monday morning, and called police after finding Smith’s body, the chief confirmed.
Roanoke County and Virginia State Police stood guard outside the house Monday afternoon. Smith’s body was not removed from the house until after dark. Officials did not elaborate on why her body was in the house until then, except to say they were collecting all the physical evidence possible.
The chief would not say who is suspected of killing Smith, saying in response to questions from newspapers and television that police “have not established a suspect” in her homicide.
Lavinder said Smith met Easley via Internet during the summer, and in October, he moved into the Smiths’ house on Fort Lewis Circle, near Fort Lewis Elementary School.
Widely circulated social media photographs reported to be from Brittany Smith and Easley’s Facebook and MySpace pages show laughing pictures of Brittany sitting close to him, perhaps in a car.
On Monday local police put out a “be on the lookout” bulletin for Tina Smith’s Silver 2005 Dodge Neon four-door sedan with a spoiler, license XKF 2365, which law enforcement authorities believe Easley and Brittany may be using. Earlier, they believed the pair might be in Easley’s red car that was later found in Roanoke City.
Easley’s description is 5-foot-11-inches tall, 265 pounds, brown hair, hazel eyes and tattoos on his forearm and calves. Brittany had shoulder length dark brown hair when last seen.
People with any information about the murder or Easley or Brittany Smith’s whereabouts are asked to call 911 or the Roanoke County Police at 540-777-8641 or Virginia State Police at 1-800-822-4453.