Vanessa Pham’s friends and family prayed, held vigils and beseeched the public for help in the search for the 19-year-old’s killer. For 21 / 2 years, there was virtually nothing to give them hope.
But then, in the span of a few days, came a DNA match and the arrest of Julio Miguel Blanco-Garcia. That brought relief, shock — and, for some, still more emptiness.
“I don’t know how to feel or what it means,” said Jake Beckhard, who attended Vienna’s James Madison High School with Pham. “I want to know who this person is that killed her.”
Answers to that question were still elusive Friday. Fairfax County police have offered few details about the 27-year-old suspect, what led them to him, or how and why he allegedly took the life of the college freshman in 2010.
Pham was found stabbed to death in her Scion hatchback, which was found in a ditch off of Arlington Boulevard in the Falls Church area.
Immigration officials disclosed Friday that Blanco-Garcia was a Guatemalan national who was in the country illegally. Local court records showed a misdemeanor shoplifting conviction in Fairfax County this year but not an extensive criminal background.
A man who answered the door at the address given by police as Blanco-Garcia’s home Thursday night said the suspect didn’t live there and he didn’t know him. Workers at the Vienna construction site where Blanco-Garcia was arrested Thursday said they did not know much about him, although he had been working there.
A Fairfax police official said Friday that authorities identified Blanco-Garcia when forensic evidence from a previous arrest matched that collected during the investigation into Pham’s slaying. Blanco-Garcia was not a suspect when the analysis of the evidence, completed this week, pointed to him, police said. They have said Pham and Blanco-Garcia did not appear to have known each other.
Fairfax police have publicly declined to describe the nature of that evidence, but the police official said it was a DNA match. The official, who was not authorized to discuss the investigation in detail and therefore spoke on the condition of anonymity, would not describe the previous arrest.
County police officials also declined to discuss a motive or where Blanco-Garcia came in contact with Pham. Surveillance video showed Pham’s car leaving the Fairfax Plaza Shopping Center shortly before she was killed June 27, 2010, and police distributed surveillance images and other information to the public and media in hopes of getting assistance with the case.
Blanco-Garcia was arraigned in Fairfax County General District Court on Friday morning. Visible by video conference, he wore a green jail vest and had slicked black hair.
He told a judge he wanted to consult with his family before deciding whether the court should appoint an attorney for him. He did not comment on the charges against him, and the details of the case were not discussed by the judge or the prosecutor. A preliminary hearing was set for Feb. 13.
Pham was a freshman at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia and had dreams of becoming a fashion designer. She lived with her mother and grandmother, who could not be reached to comment.
Robert Hamberger, the father of a friend of Pham, said she had a quick wit and was a talented artist. “You just knew she was going places,” he said. Hamberger was surprised the suspect had been arrested after so long. He said many of Pham’s friends experienced “tremendous relief” after news of the arrest, but he did not. “I found myself less relieved than I would have thought,” he said. “There’s always a hole. It will never bring her back.”
Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.