CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Authorities in New York arrested a convicted sex offender on Monday in the slaying of a North Carolina police chief's daughter, hours after the lawman made an emotional plea for help tracking the suspect down.
FBI agents and U.S. Marshals took Michael Neal Harvey, 34, into custody without incident in Niagara Falls, N.Y. He was wanted on a murder warrant in the killing of Valerie Hamilton, a 23-year-old preschool teacher and swim instructor whose body was found in a Charlotte self-storage unit on Saturday.
Merl Hamilton, police chief in the Charlotte-area city of Concord, used an appearance on ABC's "Good Morning America" to ask for help from law enforcement around the country, his voice breaking several times as he spoke. He later described Valerie Hamilton as a "perfect daughter" in an interview with the Associated Press and said he felt kinship with the officers tracking Harvey.
"Law enforcement across this country is like a brotherhood and a sisterhood and I'm hoping that they'll help me with this, and that they can get out there and find this guy," Hamilton told The AP before Harvey's arrest.
Valerie Hamilton was last seen alive at a Charlotte tavern. Police have said they think Harvey is the man spotted on surveillance video leaving the tavern with her early Wednesday.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Chief Rodney Monroe said at a news conference Monday that it wasn't clear whether the woman was abducted or may have chosen to go with Harvey.
Investigators believe she was killed shortly after, either at Harvey's Charlotte home, a motel room where he stayed late last week, or at the storage locker site.
"All three of those are prominent crime scenes," Monroe said.
An autopsy was being performed Monday. Her body had been wrapped in a material that Monroe wouldn't specify.
Hundreds of miles away in New York, the manhunt drew to a close on Monday at a house near where Harvey used to live.
The suspect was asleep on a couch at a male friend's house when 18 state, local and federal officers arrived, said Daniel Larish of the U.S. Marshals Service.
Investigators believe Harvey had been at the friend's house since about noon on Sunday. Larish said he showed no emotion and seemed "lethargic."
"I don't think it came as any real surprise to him when the authorities were able to locate him," said Monroe, the Charlotte chief.
Harvey was raised in Niagara Falls. No one answered the phone at his former address Monday morning.
Harvey was expected to be arraigned as a fugitive in Niagara County Court and is being held at the county jail. Charlotte detectives are traveling to New York to interview him.
Harvey's criminal record includes a conviction in New York for first-degree sexual abuse, as well as North Carolina convictions for failing to register as a sex offender and felony breaking-and-entering.
The slain woman's father said young women should follow the same safety rules their parents teach them as children.
"Be careful around strangers. Don't assume you know somebody when you don't. Stay with your friends. That carries over into your 20s, and when you get (to be) 23, you should be listening to that," Merl Hamilton said. "These young ladies need to demand respect and need to demand that they're kept safe."
Valerie Hamilton graduated from Concord High School in 2005 and studied nursing for a year at Queens University of Charlotte. She then changed her mind about her career and decided to follow her mother into teaching, her father said. She'd worked at a preschool and taught swimming to children at summer camps and at a Charlotte swimming school, he said.
"I'd describe her as a perfect daughter and everybody who's a father knows what that means," Merl Hamilton said. "You just stay behind her, win or lose. To me, she was perfect."
Children responded immediately to Valerie Hamilton's bubbly personality during the three years she worked at Little Otter Swim School in Charlotte, owner John Kirk said.
"She could take a kid that was fearful and anxious because it's a new place and within minutes they would be totally into her," Kirk said. "The kids knew immediately that she was somebody they could love and trust and that she would take care of them."
Rebecca Duffy's daughter had taken swim lessons from Hamilton for about two years, starting when the girl was about 6 months old. Valerie Hamilton also taught this summer at a preschool Duffy's daughter attended.
"She was so genuine and sincere in her loving care with those children," said Duffy, 38, of Charlotte. "She really embraced them and made them feel very special."
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Concord Mayor Scott Padgett said the arrest would not bring Valerie Hamilton back to life, "but it is at least one thing that the Hamilton family can put aside, worrying about whether or not the man's been caught. So from that perspective, I think it brings some limited relief."