Editor's note: The video below is a raw replay of Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott's news conference from 10 a.m. Tuesday
Map of area being searched at end of story
Sheriff Leon Lott said at a Tuesday morning news conference with FBI Special Agent in Charge Dave Thomas that a man in federal custody is suspected in connection with the disappearance of Northeast Columbia teen Gabrielle Swainson, who remains missing.
The suspect, Freddie Grant, 52, is accused of taking the 15-year-old girl to his Elgin home in the early morning hours of Aug. 18. Grant was arrested Sunday on federal weapons charges and remains in custody, charged now also with kidnapping, at the Lexington County Detention Center as a federal detainee.
"I'm not giving up hope," Lott said of finding Swainson.
Grant is described by Lott as a family acquaintance who has been uncooperative with investigators from the start of the search. Grant mowed the lawn at the home in the North Crossing neighborhood where Swainson lived with her mother, Elvia, the evening before she went missing, he said.
Grant is accused of taking Swainson, barefoot and in her pajamas, to his home, as evidenced by cell phone records and DNA. Investigators found bloody duct tape at the house, which was surrounded by police tape Tuesday afternoon.
About 120 FBI agents and officers have been looking for Swainson in a salvage yard across from Grant's house, a burned out brick residence on Smyrna Lane. They have reportedly not found her cell phone.
Following the news conference, the sheriff's department led members of the media to the search location near Grant's home, where deputies joined the search, including pulling items out of Grant's house. Curious onlookers brought more traffic than usual to the unpaved lane.
Grant is now being looked at as a suspect in the case of a missing Homestead, Fla., woman who was 28 when she disappeared Sept. 3, 2011. The woman was last seen with Grant in Elgin and looked very similar to Gabbiee Swainson, Lott said.
The sheriff said Grant became a suspect from very near the beginning of the search for Swainson.
R. Darren Price and Noelle Phillips
Our previous story is below the video player:
Replay: Richland County Sheriff's Dept. news conference, 10 a.m. Tuesday
The community may learn more about what happened to 15-year-old Gabrielle Swainson today, when Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott holds a morning news conference.
Lott said he will lay out the case and what has been done thus far in the search for the Northeast Richland teen. But he declined Monday to release any new information, saying investigators were continuing to look for her and had not given up hope that she might be found alive.
That hope for her safe return played out in other ways.
A reward being offered for information that leads to Gabrielle grew to $7,000, as soldiers in Afghanistan took up a collection for her and someone in California contributed, Lott said.
And, like they have done every day since Gabrielle disappeared, her fellow worshippers at Right Direction Church International gathered in prayer on her behalf.
Gabrielle and her mother, Elvia Swainson, are members of the church. Gabrielle participates in the church’s dance team and performs in special productions, such as the annual Christmas play.
Monday, a dozen people held their hands aloft as Joyce Brown led them in calls to the Holy Ghost for help in finding Gabrielle and in guiding those who are searching for her.
Outside, the church’s electronic marquee flashed Gabrielle’s picture with a phone number to call to give tips on her whereabouts.
Geneva Currie, who works at USC, was the first to arrive at the noon prayer session at the church’s sanctuary along Broad River Road. She has attended every prayer session held on behalf of Gabrielle. She plans to be there at 6:30 this morning when they gather again.
In times where there is no answer, it is comforting to put hope in God’s hands, Currie said.
“Otherwise, you’ll just get discouraged,” she said.
Brown added, “That’s when God steps in, when we don’t know where to go.”
Gabrielle’s mother last saw her daughter in the early morning hours of Aug. 18 when she woke Gabrielle to give her a cellphone. The mother was heading into the office to catch up on work.
When Swainson returned home a few hours later, Gabrielle was gone. The only known possession she had with her was her iPhone. Lott has not said what information the police have gotten from electronic queries to that mobile phone.
The investigation into Gabrielle’s disappearance has expanded into one of the Richland County Sheriff’s Department’s largest and most intensive searches in years, with more than 40 county and federal law agents on the case full time, Lott said.
Gabrielle, who would be entering her sophomore year at Ridge View High School, was known to be a good student and had made the junior varsity cheerleading squad.
Investigators believe it is out of character for the girl to disappear, which is why so many law enforcement officers have been dedicated to the search.
Map of area in Elgin being searchedView Larger Map