Suspect knew 18-year-old Briana Rabon, has criminal record (+video)

brantin@thestate.com, ccope@thestate.comFebruary 28, 2014 

— The 21-year-old Lugoff man arrested Friday night will be charged with murder, kidnapping and first-degree criminal sexual conduct in the death of 18-year-old Briana Rabon, Kershaw sheriff Jim Matthews said Saturday morning.

Matthews said investigators obtained a search warrant for Stephen Ross Kelly's vehicle and that Kelly had voluntarily gone in for questioning. During the interview, Kelly changed his story several times and then requested a lawyer, Matthews said.

Kelly and Rabon were acquaintances, Matthews said. He was not aware of a relationship between the two.

Investigators do not know if Rabon had been killed somewhere else and taken to the area near the Haig's Creek neighborhood where she was discovered, Matthews said.

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There was no indication of a struggle at the scene, he said.

The Kelly family lost Stephen's brother, 11-year-old son Kyle, in an ATV accident in 2011, Matthews said.

Kelly was arrested Friday night in connection with the death of Rabon, Lugoff-Elgin High School graduate who was found dead on a dirt road near Elgin on Wednesday. Kelly was being held at the Kershaw County Detention Center awaiting a bond hearing, Matthews said in a brief statement Friday night.

Earlier in the day Friday, Matthews said he was optimistic there would be a “quick resolution” in the homicide investigation

“We are pursuing this case with a vengeance,” Matthews said Friday afternoon. “I just brought in the FBI to give us some assistance. We are pulling out all stops.”

Matthews said progress was being made in the case, due in part to video surveillance footage taken from more than one location. He said late Friday afternoon the department had one search warrant and is seeking others.

Investigators said Rabon’s body was found off White Pond Road near the Haig’s Creek subdivision in Elgin when children playing on a dirt road, running along electrical lines near Elgin, discovered it. An autopsy found Rabon was strangled, Kershaw County Coroner Johnny Fellers said Friday.

The sheriff said the department has looked at several potential suspects and eliminated some others. Earlier this week he said a male who was with Rabon Tuesday evening was not considered a person of interest.

Matthews said the department generally does not make announcements until someone has been taken into custody but held out hope that wouldn’t be long.

“Our lead investigators, they are optimistic and they have shared that optimism with me,” he said, while offering no other specifics.

The investigation has been challenged somewhat, he said, by a flood of social media postings about the case that have included tips, rumors and innuendos.

“We have someone who is looking at all of these tips,” Matthews said. “We have to look at all of that. A lot of that is frivolous talk. It only impedes our investigation, as our resources are really low.”

The sheriff said someone also had taken a picture of the victim at crime scene before officers arrived and posted it online, adding those actions were only fueling the community’s intense curiosity.

“It’s very disrespectful. It’s not helpful,” he said. “It’s hurtful to the parents.”

A plea to stop spreading rumors also came from the Lugoff-Elgin High School Twitter account around noon Friday. Matthews echoed those sentiments, adding that no information should be considered credible unless issued by the sheriff’s department.

Although a lot of evidence has been collected by SLED forensics investigators where the body was found, it’s not clear where Rabon was killed. Investigators found her car parked at a Waffle House on S.C. 601 at Interstate 20. Rabon’s driver’s license was found at the scene where her body was discovered.

Rabon was born in Camden and graduated from Lugoff-Elgin High School last year. She served as a hostess at the Texas Roadhouse and Tilted Kilt.

“We are saddened by the tragic news of the death of one of our valued employees, Briana Rabon, who worked at the Columbia pub. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family at this difficult time,” said a statement issued Friday by Rabon’s employers at Tilted Kilt.

Kershaw County School District spokeswoman Mary Anne Byrd said the district made school counselors available this week to students who may have been struggling with the news.

Friday, Lugoff-Elgin High School held a moment of silence for Rabon and several students wore purple, which was her favorite color.

A funeral service for Rabon is planned for 3 p.m., Sunday at Sawney’s Creek Baptist Church, Ridgeway, with burial to follow in the church cemetery.

Anyone with information should call the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office at (803) 425-1512 and ask for Lt. Steve Knafelc.

Staff members, Chris Winston, Rachael Myers Lowe and Anne-Kathryn Flanagan contributed to this report.

 

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