- Stephanie Tinoco and Glenn Counts, WSOCTV.com
A retired Navy veteran was arrested Wednesday in connection with the murder of Ashanti Billie, 19, whose body was found on the lawn of a church in northwest Charlotte in September.
Eric Brown, 45, is suspected of having abducted Billie, of Virginia Beach, Virginia, on Sept. 18 as she arrived for work at a Blimpie’s restaurant on Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek in Virginia Beach, according to court documents.
Brown has been charged with murder and kidnapping. He faces a maximum penalty of life in prison if convicted.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police also charged Brown with murder.
Brown was first arrested for separate charges in Virginia last month before detectives linked him to Billie’s death, officials said.
Charlotte resident Warren Stukes said that his children grew up with Brown and he was shocked at the age of the woman he is accused of murdering.
"Nineteen? That's even worse," Stukes said. “That's a young girl who has not lived her life. He lived his life."
On Sept. 29, Billie’s body was found in a wooded area behind East Stonewall AME Zion Church about 300 yards from Brown’s childhood home.
Police said Billie was the subject of a missing persons investigation in Norfolk, Virginia. She had been missing since Sept. 18.
"She was happy here,” Ashanti Billie’s mother, Brandy Billie, said about Virginia Beach. “She liked it here and to think this is where it ended for her."
Brown, who spent 21 years in the Navy, worked as a day laborer and helped with the construction of the Blimpie’s this past summer.
Brown was homeless and lived in random facilities and buildings on and off the naval bases, police said.
Billie’s coworkers said that Brown would visit the Blimpie’s almost every day, and that he was seen so often in the neighboring buildings, that they believed Brown worked there.
Video surveillance recorded Billie’s car entering the base at 4:58 a.m. Sept. 18 and circling the Blimpie’s at 5 a.m.
The driver of the vehicle in both videos was a person wearing dark-colored clothing, consistent with the clothing Billie was reportedly wearing.
Video surveillance recorded a person in light-colored clothing in Billie’s car driving out of the base at about 5:33 a.m.
At about 5:44 a.m., residential video surveillance recorded a person wearing light-colored clothing, driving a car consistent with Billie’s, stop at a construction dumpster in Norfolk.
A few hours later, construction workers found Billie’s cellphone in the dumpster.
Billie’s car was found in Norfolk on Sept. 23.
Inside the car, agents recovered Billie’s pants, which contained dirt and debris. The undercarriage of the car also contained dirt and vegetative debris.
Several witnesses described seeing a car like Billie’s during the week of Sept. 18 parked at various locations in Charlotte neighborhoods, near where Billie’s body was found. The property where the body was found is owned by and located next to the church where Brown attended vacation Bible school as a child.
"To know that this man took the time out to go back to the church where he went to Bible study at when he was a child, like how do you do that? That's sickening," said Kimberly Wimbish, a spokeswoman for Billie’s family.
Brown’s wireless internet usage data indicated that he used his mobile devices nearly every day from Sept. 1 to Sept. 29.
The only day in that time period that there was no usage data is Sept. 18, which is the day Billie went missing, police said.
Brown’s wireless internet usage data also indicated that he was on the base from Sept. 14 until late in the evening of Sept. 17, which is when all usage data stopped until starting again Sept. 19.
A review of security camera video from all of the gates on the base revealed no evidence of Brown ever leaving the base from Sept. 14 through Sept. 18.
A records check of base entry logs indicated that Brown re-entered Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek on the afternoon of Sept. 19.
During an Oct. 27 interview with law enforcement, Brown told agents he was on the base in Little Creek on the evening of Sept. 17, and that at one point, he blacked out and had no recollection of what he did for several days after that.
When discussing the abduction and murder of Billie, Brown confirmed that he could not remember if he did anything to Billie, according to law enforcement.
In federal documents, a witness said Brown told them he hated African-American women.
"It is disgraceful and I will not accept PTSD," Wimbish said of Brown’s claims regarding his memory.
Brown appeared in court Wednesday and is being held in Norfolk.
"For me, I'm looking to stack every charge that we can put on him," said Ashanti Billie’s father, Meltony Billie.
Eric Brown’s family member, DeVona Brown Alleyne, released the following statement Wednesday evening:
"Along with multiple communities along the East Coast, we, the Brown family, are deeply saddened at the tragic loss of Ms. Ashanti Billie’s life. We cannot imagine the impact her death has on those lovingly connected to her. Although we are shaken by the recent arrest made, our immediate concern is for those who knew and loved Ms. Billie, and we pray for them to be supported in every way possible. No amount of insight that we could provide would take back the pain they are currently feeling and will likely experience in days, months and years to come. Respectfully, we will offer no additional comment regarding these devastating events."