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Questions remain as Howard County teens appear in court in Va. abduction and murder case

Here's the latest from Blacksburg, Va., where two Maryland teens are charged in a 13-year-old girl's murder.

One of two Virginia Tech students from Maryland charged in the abduction and killing of a 13-year-old girl told authorities that "the truth can set me free," according to charging documents released Monday.

The statement is one of the few details to emerge about the case that has stunned communities in both states, where schools lined up counseling for those left reeling.

David E. Eisenhauer, an 18-year-old from Columbia and a graduate of Wilde Lake High School, has been charged with first-degree murder and abduction in the death of 13-year-old Nicole Madison Lovell, a liver transplant survivor whose body was found dumped along a road in Surry County, N.C., on Saturday.

Police said that at one point, Eisenhauer told them: "I believe the truth can set me free."

Natalie Keepers, an 18-year-old from Laurel and a graduate of Hammond High School, helped Eisenhauer dump the girl's body, according to police in Blacksburg, Va. She is charged with improper disposal of a body and being an accessory after the fact in the commission of a felony.

Authorities have offered no indication of a motive, and charging documents did not give a cause of death, indicating only that the victim wasn't killed with a gun. An autopsy was planned Monday.

Prosecutors said in a statement that formal autopsy findings aren't expected for weeks.

The teenagers — both engineering students at Virginia Tech — appeared in a Virginia court on Monday. They did not enter pleas. The court set preliminary hearings for both on March 28.

They're being held without bond in a Virginia jail. Neither had prior criminal records, police said.

Keepers entered the court filled with reporters in an orange jumpsuit with handcuffs and shackles. Her long brown hair fell around her shoulders, and she spoke softly to Judge Robert Viar Jr., who announced the charges against her.

"Do you understand?" he asked.

"Yes," she said.

Eisenhauer appeared ahead of a scheduled arraignment earlier in the day, when reporters were not in the courtroom.

The teens' Blacksburg-based attorneys did not respond to requests for comment.

No one answered the door at Keepers' home in a well-kept Laurel neighborhood, or at Eisenhauer's home in the golf course community of Hobbits Glen in Columbia. A number listed for Eisenhauer's parents rang busy, and a phone message left with Keepers' family was not returned.

Blacksburg police said Eisenhauer knew Nicole before she was abducted and "used this relationship to his advantage to abduct the 13-year-old and then kill her." But police haven't said how the two became acquainted.

Police said no new details about the case would be released Monday and that they would not release information about evidence that has been collected.

For a second straight day, Virginia State Police divers searched a duck pond on the campus, police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said. She declined to say what they were seeking.

Nicole was discovered missing from her Blacksburg home Wednesday after her family said she had apparently pushed a dresser in front of her bedroom door and climbed out a window overnight.

As Virginia Tech students returned to school Monday, officials said they were prepared.

University officials reminded students that counseling services were available on campus. At the massive West Ambler Johnston Hall, where students said Eisenhauer lived, signs were posted to tell the media to keep out. Students said college staff had advised them to decline questions from reporters.

In Maryland, employees at Wilde Lake and Hammond high schools were briefed before the school day began, and students were offered counseling, said John White, a spokesman for the Howard County public school system.

"They tried to keep today as normal as possible," White said.

The charges against Eisenhauer came as a shock to James LeMon, principal of Wilde Lake, where Eisenhauer graduated last year. LeMon said it was difficult to reconcile the fact that a talented student and athlete was accused of a terrible crime.

Eisenhauer was the Howard County indoor track athlete of the year last year and a two-time Class 3A state runner-up in cross country. He became a member of the Hokies track team.

"He was an excellent student here. Obviously he was an outstanding athlete. … It was just very shocking news," LeMon said.

LeMon said he and members of the school's crisis team started working on a response plan Saturday. Teachers read information about the incident to students at the start of classes Monday and reminded them of the counseling available.

LeMon said students handled the news well.

"It's just a tragic situation," LeMon said.

Keepers interned at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, led science experiments at her church's Bible school and wanted a career in aerospace or ocean engineering, according to her LinkedIn profile.

"It's just very, very surprising," said the school's principal, Marcia Leonard.

Eisenhauer faces 20 years to life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder and up to a decade in prison for abduction.

Keepers faces up to five years for the charge of improper disposal of a body, which is a felony. The accessory charge is a misdemeanor that carries up to one year in prison.

In Blacksburg, Nicole Lovell's family mourned the loss of the girl who survived a liver transplant and lymphoma and dealt with bullies at school. A few miles from the edge of Virginia Tech's campus, Nicole's mother, Tammy Weeks, sat on apartment patio as friends and family came.

A neighbor came quickly up the sidewalk, saying, "Tammy, I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry," and hugged the grieving mother.

A police officer told news media the mother wanted privacy.

Nicole didn't like going to school because girls called her fat and talked about her transplant scars, her mother said in an earlier interview. "It got so bad I wouldn't send her" to school, but then the bullying continued on social media, Weeks said.

Nicole's classmates were grieving Monday at Blacksburg Middle School, where 10 counselors were brought in, said Brenda Drake, spokeswoman for the school district.

Drake said privacy laws prevent her from commenting on Nicole's experience, but she noted that the school has anti-bullying programs.

Davy Draper, a close family friend, called Nicole an energetic and outspoken girl who got along with everyone.

"She was an awesome little girl. She was an angel here on Earth, and she's an angel now," Draper said.

The Associated Press and Baltimore Sun reporter Pamela Wood contributed to this article.

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