Sept. 25 update: Authorities say a body believed to be that of 21-year-old Hannah Bender has been recovered in North Forsyth County.
“We’ve been looking for Miss Hannah Bender. Actually, we’d been hoping to find her alive, but in the wee, early hours this morning she was found in Forsyth County,” Lumpkin County Sheriff Stacy Jarrard said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon.
The body was discovered in a shallow grave off Parks Road in North Forsyth. Jarrard declined to provide information about the state of the body in front of Bender’s father, Gary Bender, who stood beside him at the press conference.
Markings and tattoos led investigators to believe the body is Bender, Jarrard said, but a full identification will be made by a Georgia Bureau of Investigation autopsy.
Lumpkin County Sheriff's Office press conference
“I hate to give this kind of news to a father that I had to give a while ago,” Jarrard said. “And my heart goes out to the Bender family.”
Bender was reported missing in Lumpkin County by her mother on Sept. 19 and shortly after bloody clothing was found in nearby Dawson County.
Following Bender’s disappearance, the Lumpkin County Sheriff’s Office issued murder warrants for Austin Todd Stryker, who is considered a prime suspect in the case.
Jarrard said that “testimonial interviews” led them to the body and a black Mazda truck, which was found Tuesday, Sept. 24, at a property adjacent to the body’s location on Parks Road in north Forsyth. Jarrard said it does not appear the property owner is involved.
It is believed that Bender was killed at a campsite in Lumpkin County, according to Jarrard.
The search for her body has involved law enforcement authorities from multiple agencies. Jarrard said they are actively processing crime scenes in Lumpkin, Dawson and Forsyth counties.
Jarrard said Stryker is still on the run from authorities and should be considered armed and dangerous. He said authorities believe the two knew each other, but he didn’t provide any more information about their relationship.
Stryker’s wife, Elizabeth Donaldson, 21, has been arrested by the GBI in connection with Bender’s death, Jarrard said, and charges are pending. She is being held in the Dawson County Detention Center.
According to Jarrard, a previously named person of interest, Jerry Harper, 78, is still wanted for questioning.
More arrests could be coming, Jarrard said.
Gary Bender spoke briefly at the press conference to say rumors on social media have made the case more difficult for the family.
“The experience that we’ve been having has been compounded and aggravated by the social media aspect of it, everybody speculating and throwing ‘facts’ out not knowing what they were talking about,” Gary Bender said. “It’s made it extremely difficult for us. I want to ask everybody that if you really do care … stop speculating and throwing that garbage out there online. If you don’t have anything positive to say, just shut up.”
Anyone with information in this case has been asked to contact the Lumpkin County Sheriff’s Office by calling 706-974-6824.
Previous story: The Lumpkin County Sheriff’s Office has obtained a murder warrant for a man following a missing person report.
Law enforcement is looking for Austin Todd Stryker, the Sheriff’s Office posted on social media Saturday.
Hannah Bender was reported missing by her mother, and shortly after the call reporting Bender’s disappearance, bloody clothing was found.
The Sheriff’s Office is asking that anyone with information contact Capt. Marcus Sewell at 706-974-6824.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is working with the Sheriff’s Office on this case.
Megan Reed, The Times