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Suspect Was Legend In Va. Tech Community

Cornelia Morris of Christiansburg, Va., adds to the memorials for Cpl. Eric Sutphin on the patrol car that had been assigned to him. Officials may seek an indictment in Sutphin's death.
Cornelia Morris of Christiansburg, Va., adds to the memorials for Cpl. Eric Sutphin on the patrol car that had been assigned to him. Officials may seek an indictment in Sutphin's death. (By Matt Gentry -- Roanoke Times Via Associated Press)

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By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 23, 2006

BLACKSBURG, Va., Aug. 22 -- The escaped prisoner who led police on a manhunt after allegedly killing two people this week is a self-professed survivalist whose tales of spending nights in the dense woods around this college town were legendary at the university coffee shops where he had become a fixture.

But the people who served him lattes and challenged him to games of backgammon said William C. Morva, 24, though odd, had seemed to be a harmless young man, full of bluster and tall tales. They said they were surprised when he was arrested in an attempted robbery last year and shocked by the killings he allegedly committed starting Sunday.

"I was just floored. I couldn't believe it was him," said Erik Benoist, 20, a third-year student at Virginia Tech who works at Bollo's, a popular coffee shop.

"Everyone downtown knows Will. We all were subject to Will's conversations," Benoist said, recalling long diatribes about politics and religion. "I remember him talking about hunting deer with spears, but you never knew when he was just talking."

Morva was being held without bond at an undisclosed location on charges that he killed a hospital security guard during an escape from jail early Sunday morning. Authorities said Morva also fatally shot a sheriff's deputy from Virginia's Montgomery County along the popular Huckleberry Trail on Monday morning. Charges have not been filed in that killing.

The escape and ensuing manhunt shut down Virginia Tech on the first day of classes. Police officers told students to stay in their dorms, and faculty members were restricted to their offices for hours. Police found Morva hiding Monday afternoon in the woods in which he often talked about living.

"I told the cops he slept in the woods along the trail," said Meredith Hampton, 27, who works at Gillie's Vegetarian Restaurant near campus. "He was different -- living in a different world than everyone else was living in."

Andrew Mullin, 18, said his friend "was the kind of person that didn't like the government watching him. He didn't like government interference. He was much more of a natural person -- hunting, camping, doing stuff on his own."

Mullin said that "sometimes he'd be in a bad mood and it wouldn't lift, you couldn't cheer him up. He'd be really pretty angry and you'd steer clear. He would snap."

Morva "kind of floated in and out of town," Mullin said. "It seemed like he was carried by the wind."

Felicia Jackson, 38, who manages Bollo's and has known Morva since he was 16, said he seemed indifferent to the weather, wearing only a sport coat even on the coldest days.

"He would do things like walk between here and Radford on the back roads on a cold winter day," she said, describing a distance that could stretch for almost 20 miles. "He would be barefoot. I said, 'Will, you're crazy.' "

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