COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The Columbia Police Department says their investigation in the disappearance of 21-year-old University of South Carolina student Samantha Josephson has now become a homicide investigation.
Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook said that the State Law Enforcement Division is charging Nathaniel David Rowland, 24, with kidnapping and murder in relation to Josephson’s death.
According to police, Josephson was last seen on surveillance video after 2 a.m. Friday entering a dark vehicle, possibly a newer model Chevrolet Impala.
Police say Josephson’s body was found by two turkey hunters in a wooded area in Clarendon County on Friday afternoon near Black Bottom Road in New Zion, nearly 70 miles from Columbia. The suspect previously lived in that area, and hunters say the secluded spot where she was found is only known to those who are familiar with that area.
Saturday at 3 a.m., Rowland was stopped two blocks from the Five Points area in a black Chevrolet Impala by an “alert” Columbia K-9 officer. According to police, when Rowland was asked to step out of the car he fled on foot and was later arrested.
Officials say there was also an acquaintance of Rowland in the car during the traffic stop and that person is cooperating with police.
Police then observed the appearance of blood in the car. SLED was called to process the scene. A search warrant later uncovered more blood, Josephson’s cellphone, bleach, wipes and window cleaner, according to Chief Holbrook.
A child safety seat was discovered in the back seat of the vehicle and the child safety locks were enabled, so no passengers could exit.
Josephson was first reported missing by friends when she did not return to her downtown apartment after a night out.
She was last seen outside of The Bird Dog bar on Harden Street. Police say she was waiting for an Uber she requested, but got in the wrong car.
Her father, Seymour Josephson, wrote a heartbreaking Facebook post Saturday morning confirming his daughter’s death.
"It is with tremendous sadness and of a broken heart that I post this! I will miss and love my baby girl for the rest of life. Samantha is no longer with us but she will not be forgotten," Seymour Josephson wrote. "It is extremely hard to write this and post it but I love her with all my heart. I could continue to write about her but it kills me. I sit here and cry while looking at the picture and write this."
Samantha was a senior political science major from Robbinsville, New Jersey. Holbrook said Josephson’s family is currently in South Carolina and has a lot of support.
“I met with the family... their hearts are broken,” Holbrook said. “There is nothing tougher than to stand before a family and explain how a loved one was murdered they have a lot of support here, but it was gut-wrenching words can’t describe what they are going through.”
Holbrook said that there’s more to uncover with this investigation.
“We are fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters and it’s just as personal to us and will be a priority and we will be with them every step of the way until this is done,” Holbrook said.
UofSC President Harris Pastides wrote a statement after Josephson’s death was confirmed asking for students to be more vigilant while out and about:
“It is with the heaviest of hearts that I write these words this morning. Our prayers are with the family and friends of Samantha Josephson following the devastating news of her death. Times like these leave me searching for words of wisdom and comfort. However, I take solace that the Carolina Family is here to embrace those who are hurting. As you make plans for the weekend, remember the tenets of Stand Up Carolina: look out for one another, be active bystanders,” the president’s statement continues. “Travel in groups and stay together. If you have not already done so, download the RAVE Guardian safety app, set up your profile and learn how to use it. It has been a difficult week for our extended Carolina family. The loss of a student is never easy but this has been a particularly painful few days as we have experienced loss on several of our campuses. As a family, let’s continue to pray for all the families experiencing heartache and grief this week.”
The university’s Student Health Services will be holding counseling services on Sunday from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m.
“It has been a difficult week. Please know that your safety and well-being is our number one concern,” the university and its student body president said in a statement. “Our counseling center has regular Sunday hours from 2-8 p.m. for drop-in sessions and throughout the week 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. You can also reach 24/7 counseling services by calling 803-777-5223. If you feel in danger call 911 or the USC Police Department at 803-777-4215.”
As it concluded their message on safety, the university president and the student body president said: "We care about you and are here for you. Look out for one another Gamecocks."
Police also said that if you’ve experienced someone offering you a ride or pretending to be an Uber driver, to report it to them.
You can watch the full CPD press conference here:
Check back for more updates.