Sheriff confirms body found is Gabbiee Swainson

Published: Aug. 24, 2015 at 10:32 AM EDT|Updated: Aug. 24, 2015 at 10:33 AM EDT
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Gabbiee Swainson
Gabbiee Swainson
A booking photo taken of Freddie Grant at Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center.
A booking photo taken of Freddie Grant at Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center.
Scene in Elgin where teams found Gabbiee Swainson's remains.
Scene in Elgin where teams found Gabbiee Swainson's remains.

RICHLAND COUNTY, SC (WIS) - "The search for Gabbiee is over."

Just over 24 hours after the search for her body began in a wooded area in Elgin, Sheriff Leon Lott confirmed the body they located late Thursday night is missing teen Gabbiee Swainson.

The man suspected of killing her lead investigators to her gravesite.

"He's taken us there," said Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott of Freddie Grant's revelation Thursday. "He's told us. He's showed us."

Lott said investigators flew to the federal penitentiary in Kentucky where Grant was being held Thursday morning to bring him back to the Midlands. Grant took investigators to Elgin to show them where he had buried Gabbiee. The body has been recovered.

"This wasn't a 'whodunit,'" said Lott. "Almost immediately we were able to determine Freddie Grant was the man responsible for kidnapping Gabbiee. The challenge was we couldn't find Gabbiee."

Lott made the announcement at a news conference Thursday evening.

"This has been 357 days of terror that Gabbiee's mother and family had endured. That this community had endured," said Lott. "It's not the way we'd have liked this to have ended.  We'd have liked to have found Gabbiee and brought her home to her momma."

Grant took Deputies to an area near the fire department in Elgin where deputies searched for Gabbiee's remains. The area was searched when Gabbiee disappeared last August and the FBI set up a command post there.

The body was taken to the Richland County Coroner's Office.

"It kills us because we failed to find her," said Lott. "Even though we could not have saved her life, when she was buried. It hurts all of us to know that many, many people walked that area.

"Many, many people looked in the exact same place where we found her." said Lott. "But the way she was concealed, you wouldn't know. The type of hole that he dug, the things he put on top of it. The cadaver dog would not have been able to find it at the depth that it was. We just couldn't find it. There's just no way of finding it without someone taking us to that area and showing us."

"We've provided them with a backhoe," said Kershaw County Sheriff James Matthews, who was at the search scene Thursday night. "They have found a body."

Matthews said although Swainson's body was found in Kershaw County, the case remains with the Richland County Sheriff's Department. Matthews was called to assist the investigation Thursday afternoon.

"I promised Elvia a long time ago we were going to bring Gabbiee home," said Lott.

Lott's remarks put an end to an almost year-long search for the teen.

Gabbiee vanished without a trace from her Northeast Columbia home on August 18, 2012 during a 3-4 hour period when her mother was at work. Elvia Swainson returned home that morning to find Gabbiee's beeping alarm clock, but no sign of her daughter.

Grant was the lone suspect in this case from the beginning. He was initially arrested on federal ammunition charges eight days after Gabbiee went missing. Investigators found a box of shotgun shells and a box of .38 caliber bullets in his home while they were searching for clues in the girl's disappearance. He was disqualified to possess ammunition due to a prior conviction.

Two days after the arrest, deputies also charged Grant with kidnapping. Lott said Grant will be charged with murder. Solicitor Dan Johnson said he will not pursue the death penalty in this case.

"We've been in negotiations for quite some time with Freddy's attorneys," said Lott, referring to Johnson. "We have stood strong on what our offer was. We made an offer to them and haven't changed from day one. We had to do a lot of soul searching. It was almost that you're making a deal with the devil and it was tough."

"We both decided it was best for the community. It was best for Elvia, it was best for everybody," said Lott. "We were able to negotiate what we came up with, which allowed Freddie to take us out there today and show us where he buried her."

The Sheriff would not elaborate on a motive.

"A point where this case took a very important turn was where Freddie's daughter, Dominque, was arrested," said Lott. "That was, I guess, the breaking point as far as to getting Freddie to lead us to where Gabbiee was at. So I don't want anybody to think he did this out of his conscience or he felt bad for Gabbiee or Elvia or this community. He didn't do that.  He did it solely because his daughter was arrested and she was facing some very serious jail time. That's what we needed."

Investigators believe Grant forced Gabbiee to leave her Tamara Way house and took her to his home in Elgin that morning. Grant had a key to the home and was said to have been Elvia Swainson's boyfriend at one time.

The case gained national attention after Lott appeared on Nancy Grace twice and held local news conferences where he referred to Grant as a "monster."

In April, Grant was sentenced to 212 months in prison on the ammunition charges, but never faced trial for kidnapping. "We could go to court today," said Lott after the sentencing. "We're ready. We're prepared. The forensics are in, our leads have been followed up, we've done all the work, so we're ready to go, but we don't have to go right now, and that's the key."

In July, Freddie Grant's daughter, Dominique, was charged with accessory after the fact. Sheriff's investigators said Dominique, 27, tried to help Freddie dispose of Gabbiee's cell phone by leaving it behind a Piggly Wiggly grocery store in Myrtle Beach.

Gabbiee was an honors student at Ridge View High School. She was just days away from beginning her sophomore year when she disappeared.

In the early days of the investigation, family members organized searches for Gabbiee. During one or more of those early searches, Lott said Grant actually joined in on the effort to help find her. Lott said Swainson called Grant for help and he showed up shortly after that call.

Elvia Swainson, Gabbiee's mother, did not attend the news conference Thursday.

"This case has touched a lot of people," said Lott. "I've never seen a case quite like this that's just grabbed the community."

"This was a sad case. The community came together. I think now the community's got a little bit of closure because she has been found."

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