Suspect locked USC student in car before killing her, police say

The body of a missing University of South Carolina student was found in Clarendon County on Friday afternoon, about 15 hours after friends last saw her in Five Points.

Columbia Police Department Chief Skip Holbrook, in a news conference Saturday, said Samantha Josephson’s body was found abandoned on a rural dirt road in the town of New Zion. Clarendon County is about 65 miles southeast of Columbia.

One suspect — Nathaniel David Rowland, 24 — was arrested after a traffic stop early Saturday morning and would be charged with murder and kidnapping, police said. Rowland was a few blocks from the Five Points area when he was arrested, according to Holbrook.

Police believe Josephson, 21, in the early hours of Friday morning got into what she thought was her Uber ride but was actually the suspect’s vehicle. Rowland activated the car doors’ child-safety locks, Holbrook said, which prevented any escape attempts.

“She had, in fact, summoned an Uber ride,” Holbrook said. “She was waiting for that Uber ride to come, we believe. … She simply mistakenly got into this car thinking it was an Uber ride.”

Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center

Around 1 p.m. Friday, roommates and friends of Josephson called Columbia police, saying they hadn’t seen her since after 1 a.m. Friday.

As Columbia investigators went to work on the missing person case Friday afternoon, the Clarendon County Sheriff’s Department was called around 4 p.m. Friday by two hunters who found a body.

“They quickly realized between clothing and description it was our missing person,” Holbrook said.

Columbia police called in the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division to look into the dirt road scene where the body was found.

Officers worked through the evening to find out what happened before Josephson, from New Jersey, went missing. Surveillance footage showed that Josephson was last seen getting into a black Chevy Impala near 715 Harden St. in Five Points.

The search for the Impala began. Around 3 a.m. Saturday, a Columbia police officer observed an Impala matching the description of the car being sought just blocks away from Five Points, Holbrook said. The officer pulled the vehicle over and, while stopped, the driver fled on foot. The officer was able to catch the suspect.

Blood was found in the car’s trunk and cab, along with bleach, wet wipes and germicide, according to Holbrook. Testing found that the blood belonged to Josephson.

The driver of the car was identified as Rowland, Holbrook said. Rowland lived in Clarendon County and was familiar with the dirt road where Josephson was abandoned, according to Holbrook.

“There is nothing tougher than to stand before a family and tell a family how a loved one was murdered,” Holbrook said. “One of things I talked to them about is how important these investigations are to us. … It’s personal to us. … I assured them we’ll be with them every step of the way until this was done.”

The investigation is still ongoing.

At a Saturday evening news conference, Holbrook, Clarendon County Sheriff Tim Baxley and SLED Chief Mark Keel did not take any questions about the Josephson case. Holbrook did not elaborate on a motive or how Josephson died.

After the news conference, Columbia Police Department spokesperson Jennifer Timmons said another woman was in the car with Rowland at the time of his arrest. The woman knew Rowland. She is cooperating with police, Timmons said.

Josephson was a senior political science major set to graduate in May. She had been accepted into Drexel University’s law school, according to a friend, Jordyn Spencer.

On Friday night, Spencer and other friends went through Five Points asking if anyone saw their friend.

“We’re making sure everyone is checking their (ride share service car) before they get in,” Spencer said.

On Saturday morning, Josephson’s father posted on Facebook that Samantha “is no longer with us but she will not be forgotten.”

“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,” 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.”

A GoFundMe campaign was set up Saturday afternoon to raise money to cover Josephson’s funeral and memorial costs. In three hours, more than 200 donors helped raise more than $5,000.

USC President Harris Pastides released a statement about Josephson’s death, saying, “Times like these leave me searching for words of wisdom and comfort.”

“Our prayers are with the family and friends of Samantha Josephson following the devastating news of her death,” Pastides wrote. “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.”

This is the second death of a Columbia USC student this past week, following a death by suicide. Another student at USC Upstate was also killed this week.

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Isabella Cueto is a bilingual multimedia journalist covering Lexington County, one of the fastest-growing areas of South Carolina. She previously worked as a reporter for the Medill Justice Project and WLRN, South Florida’s NPR station. She is a graduate of the University of Miami, where she studied journalism and theatre arts.
David Travis Bland won the South Carolina Press Association’s 2017 Judson Chapman Award for community journalism. As The State’s crime, police and public safety reporter, he strives to inform communities about crimes that affect them and give deeper insight into victims, the accused and law enforcement. He studied history with a focus on the American South at the University of South Carolina.