CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. (WSLS) — A bond request was denied for Natalie Keepers Thursday after Commonwealth’s Attorney Mary Pettitt argued Keepers “wanted to be part of something secret and special” when she planned to kill and later hide the body of 13-year-old Nicole Lovell.
Pettitt said 19-year-old Keepers was involved right from the beginning with 18-year-old David Eisenhauer and participated in a number of steps up to and after Lovell’s death.
“She killed someone she never even met.”
Keepers and Eisenhauer, both Virginia Tech students, bounced ideas off of each other at the Cook Out restaurant in Blacksburg, Pettitt said during the hearing. That included plans to take her “to a remote location under the guise of a date” and cutting her throat, Pettitt said.
In presenting evidence, Pettitt said investigators checked Lovell’s email, social media and chat applications after receiving an emergency 911 call reporting Nicole missing at 6:30 a.m. on the morning of January 27. Her door had been barricaded, a window slightly open and her Minion character blanket and cell phone were missing.
A review of Lovell’s accounts showed her last message was with an account belonging to Eisenhauer, Pettitt said.
Eisenhauer was taken to the Blacksburg Police Department on January 30, where he denied involvement but admitted to communicating with Lovell and driving to her house on or about the time of the last message, received at 12:39 a.m. on January 27. He said he saw Lovell come out of her window at her Lantern Ridge apartment, gave her a “side hug” and returned to Virginia Tech to see his close friend, Keepers, Pettitt explained.
Police found Keepers in her boyfriend’s room. There, she agreed to go in for questioning and voluntarily consented to a search of her cellphone where it was discovered she sent a message to Eisenhauer stating, “POLICE.”
Keepers claimed she did not kill Lovell but did help load her body into the trunk of Eisenhauer’s Lexus. The two had previously bought a shovel and picked out a secluded location on Craig Creek Road to dump the body.
The two also went to a Walmart near Wytheville to buy cleaning supplies with cash, Pettitt said. Items belonging to the victim, including Lovell’s minion blanket, were found in Keepers dorm room in a suitcase, she said.
On January 31, Pettitt says, police believed Keepers was holding back information. She was emotional, they said. She stated, “I don’t want to go to jail.”
Keepers took the stand during her bond hearing, explaining her mental health issues, including thoughts of suicide in eighth and ninth grade. She said it was during that time her parents got her involved in a Christian Counseling Center program in Columbia, Maryland, where she learned “techniques to reduce stress.”
She told Judge Robert Viar, “If I do get bail, my parents will start looking for a psychiatrist near my house so I can get the help that I need.”
Keepers also testified she sought help at the Cook Counseling Center at Virginia Tech as soon as she got to the university in August because she was having a hard time transitioning from high school to college. She started seeing a psychiatrist who prescribed medication to deal with depression and anxiety attacks. It was at Cook Counseling where, “I learned how to love myself,” she said.
She also admitted to “cutting” on and off until 2014 when she made herself a promise, she said.
“I chose, instead of putting an end to my life, I chose to make a decision and be strong about it. ”
Keepers then got a semicolon tattoo behind her ear as a permanent promise to herself, her family and God to never do anything suicidal again, she said.
Project Semicolon is an organization aimed at providing “hope and love for those who are struggling with mental issues, suicide, addictions and self-injury.”
Keepers’ parents each took the stand Thursday, as Lovell’s own parents sat in the front two rows of the courtroom listening to the details. Lovell’s own father, David Lovell, eyed Keepers throughout the trial.
Natalie’s father, Tim Keepers, described them as an extremely close family. Tim Keepers, his wife Sara Keepers as well as Natalie’s siblings – a sister and twin brothers, all live in the Laurel, Maryland home, where her father promised she’d be held up if released on bond.
“We all talk together,” Tim Keepers said. “My sons love Natalie, our daughters love Natalie. Close very strong, Christian family. We’re very happy.”
The father described the moments after learning of his daughter’s arrest as “complete and utter devastation.”
“It still is extremely confusing to me. We are still very, very, very, sad,” he said, calling his daughter an absolutely wonderful role model to the rest of his kids. He described learning of her arrest as like “being punched in the stomach by someone much bigger than you.”
Tim Keepers, an aerospace engineer, described their home as one that stressed education, education before chores. It was all about “deadlines or school work.” He says he had to tell his daughter that Bs were ok in school.
Tim Keepers broke down, hanging his head while on the stand when explaining how his daughter wanted to follow in his footsteps.
“She wanted to follow… follow in my footsteps and also be an aerospace engineer,” he said fighting back tears.
He said his daughter didn’t drink or do drugs. Her lawyers said she liked Swedish Fish and was a member of the Disney Princess Club.
Sara and Tim Keepers both said they became aware of their daughter’s friend, David Eisenhauer in October or November when he “dropped everything to take her to the hospital” when she needed an appendectomy.
“He did so at great speed,” Tim Keepers said.
Upon questioning by Pettitt, both parents said their daughter never called them to say Eisenhauer asked her for assistance or to move a dead body and did not hear about it until she had been arrested.
Keepers’ parents offered to pay for home electronic monitoring in order to get their daughter released on bond and out of the Western Virginia Regional Jail where she is being held in isolation, paid for by the Commonwealth, her defense lawyer said.
In arguing for her release, Keepers lawyers said being with her parents would allow her medical and dietary needs to be met. Keepers, who said she suffers from a gluten allergy as well as seasonal allergies, said she is not being fed a gluten-free diet in jail. The jail is also giving her half the dosage of her anti-anxiety and depression medicine, in direct contradiction to psychiatrist orders, her lawyer said.
Prosecutor Mary Pettitt, opposed to bond, argued one of the charges against Keepers, accessory before the fact to the first degree murder, “essentially puts her in the same place as the person that committed the murder.”
Keepers is also facing a charge of improper disposal of a body and being an accessory after the fact.
Eisenhauer is charged with abduction and first degree murder.
Police have not said specifically how he and Lovell met, only saying the two were acquaintances before her disappearance and he “used that to his advantage to abduct and kill her.”
Kik Interactive Inc., an online messenger app that uses usernames, not phone numbers to set up accounts, allowing users to chat with one another, said it provided the FBI with information to lead to an arrest in the Lovell case.
In a statement to 8News sister station WSLS, Kik stated, “Kik cooperated with the FBI for their investigation. This involved responding to multiple emergency requests under our Emergency Disclosure Request to which we release certain account information to law enforcement agencies for cases that involve imminent threat of death, loss of security, or serious physical injury to any person. Kik cooperates with law enforcement to combat child predators anywhere in the world, either upon provision of a court order, or in emergency situations such as this one. We are in frequent dialogue with law enforcement authorities to further ensure that our channels of cooperation are as open as they can be while respecting user privacy.”
Kik said it continues to work to educate the public about online safety and on Thursday, posted a blog entry about its Guide for Parents, available here.
Blacksburg police confirmed Saturday, Lovell was found dead, her remains located in Surry, N.C.
Pettitt did not mention a motive in the killing.
In announcing his decision denying bond, Viar called the case a tragedy in every sense of the word. He said the one tie Keepers had to the community, (Virginia Tech, where she has been banned from campus) she severed . Viar said he’d be relying on a company out of state to provide for the safety of citizens in Virginia and Maryland.
Stay with 8News for continuing coverage of this developing story.