The mystery of how an accused kidnapper entered the home of missing teen Gabrielle Swainson has been solved after investigators found a key inside the suspect’s house, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said Wednesday.
After Gabrielle was reported missing Aug. 18, the sheriff said there were no signs of forced entry at the Swainson home in Northeast Richland. But he did not have an explanation of how someone could have gotten inside.
Investigators still are not sure how the suspect would have known Gabrielle, 15, was alone inside, Lott said.
Lott showed the key, which was one of several attached to a lanyard, to reporters during a Wednesday press conference. The key is one more piece of evidence against Freddie Grant, who has been charged with kidnapping in the case, Lott said.
While investigators continue to build their case against Grant, the sheriff’s department’s main focus is finding Gabrielle, Lott said.
“We know the person responsible,” Lott said. “We know who took her. We have him. He’s not going anywhere. The priority is finding Gabbiee.”
Lott said investigators continue to work under the theory that Gabrielle is alive. Although they have found Gabrielle’s blood in the bed at her home and on duct tape inside Grant’s home, it is not enough to conclude that she is dead, Lott said.
Investigators found the key as they executed search warrants Aug. 21 for Grant’s home in Elgin but did not confirm that it belonged to the Swainson home until Tuesday. The delay was a result of the massive amount of evidence seized from Grant’s home and the department’s focus on the search for the teen, Lott said.
Grant had been given the key because he was doing flooring work in the Swainson home, Lott said. About six weeks ago, Grant allegedly told Elvia Swainson, Gabrielle’s mother, that he had lost it, the sheriff said.
“He had lied repeatedly to Gabbiee’s mother about this key – that he didn’t have this key, that he had lost the key,” Lott said.
The lanyard holding the key was hanging from a nail in the room where Grant lived in his house on Kelly Street in Elgin, Lott said. The house had burned several years ago, and Grant primarily lived in one room.
Grant knew the Swainson family because he had been involved with Elvia Swainson. The two dated in 2007 but Swainson had broken off the relationship, Lott said. Grant had been coming back around the Swainsons’ house since October.
Grant has been held in the Lexington County Detention Center on a federal weapons charge since Aug. 26, after investigators found shotgun shells and hollow point bullets inside his house. He was not allowed to have the ammo because of a previous conviction of possessing cocaine with intent to distribute.
The Richland County Sheriff’s Department has issued an arrest warrant on the kidnapping charge but has not served it on Grant.
Grant’s attorney, Fielding Pringle, has declined comment. She has filed a motion to ask a Richland County judge to impose a gag order in the case.