Lumpkin County authorities said the remains of Hannah Bender, 21, were recovered by the sheriff’s office on Sept. 25, according to Atlanta’s WSB-TV. She went missing more than a week ago.
Police believe there are two suspects, 22-year-old Austin Stryker and 78-year-old Jerry Harper, involved in the case.
An arrest warrant was issued for Stryker after Bender’s blood-stained clothes were found. They also spoke to witnesses.
“This has been an experience for my family. I want everyone to stop spreading information and just shut up and stop throwing that garbage out there online,” her father, Gary Bender, said.
Austin Stryker in a file photo (Lumpkin County Sheriff’s Office)
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, her body was found in a shallow grave off Parks Road near Georgia Highway 306. A tipster led investigators to the location.
Her mother, Carol Gilreath, said that she heard from her daughter last on Sept. 14 when she text messaged her. Five days later, Gilreath reported Bender missing.
It’s not clear how investigators connected Stryker to the woman’s case, but officials said he is believed to be driving a black Ford Ranger with front-end damage. The vehicle was later located, officials said, according to the newspaper.
Stryker’s wife, Elizabeth Donaldson, was arrested in Dawson County in connection with the case, reported 11Alive. She was charged with concealing evidence.
Jerry Harper in a file photo (Lumpkin County Sheriff’s Office)
Officials said that Harper is suspected in the murder, the Journal-Constitution reported, adding that he might be driving a 2008 Ford Explorer.
The 11Alive report noted that Stryker was last seen in Clay County, West Virginia.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is involved in the case.
Bender’s cause of death has not yet been determined, and an autopsy is scheduled.
Anyone with information can call the sheriff’s office at 706-974-6824.
There were 424,066 missing children reported in the FBI’s National Crime Information Center in 2018, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). Under federal law, when a child is reported missing to law enforcement they must be entered into the database. In 2017, there were 464,324 entries.
“This number represents reports of missing children. That means if a child runs away multiple times in a year, each instance would be entered into NCIC separately and counted in the yearly total. Likewise, if an entry is withdrawn and amended or updated, that would also be reflected in the total,” the center notes on its website.
“Unfortunately, since many children are never reported missing, there is no reliable way to determine the total number of children who are actually missing in the U.S.,” NCMEC (National Center for Missing & Exploited Children) added.
In 2018, the center said it assisted officers and families in more than 25,000 missing children cases. Of those cases, 92 percent were endangered runaways, and 4 percent were family abductions.
The center said that it participates in the Amber Alert Program, which is a voluntary partnership between numerous entities, including broadcasters, transportation agencies, and law enforcement agencies. The Amber Alert Program issues urgent bulletins in the most serious child-abduction cases.
According to the NCMEC, to date, 941 children have been successfully recovered as a result of the Amber Alert Program.
The center notes that of the more than 23,500 runaways reported in 2018, about one in seven were likely victims of child sex trafficking.