The father of a missing University of Virginia sophomore stood before reporters, raising a tiny stuffed rabbit as he pleaded for someone to come forward with information that would locate his daughter, the child whose lifetime of love had worn that bunny from new and white to gray and shabby.
Off to the side, another father stood in uniform Sunday, waiting to make the same appeal with nearly as much passion but much more edge.
Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy J. Longo has pounded the top of lecterns, jabbed the air and fixed steady stares into media cameras since 18-year-old Hannah Graham disappeared Sept. 13. As the search for the missing student is followed nationally and even internationally, it also has drawn attention to the small-town police chief with a bulldog demeanor.
Longo, 51, has scolded members of the public who haven’t called in sightings, because he is certain that some of them saw John Graham’s daughter after she apparently lost her way home after a night out with friends: “Pick. Up. The. Phone.”
He has praised more than a thousand others who have searched and shared tips, embracing them as part of his team: “You rose to the occasion. . . . You stepped up to the plate.”
And in an unusual turn, Longo has publicly named a man who until Tuesday night had not been charged in the disappearance, saying he is the last person to have been seen with Graham before she “vanished off the face of the earth.”
At a news conference Tuesday evening, Longo announced a warrant for Jesse Leroy Matthew Jr., charging him with abduction with intent to defile.
Longo, himself a lawyer, had virtually shouted Matthew’s name in earlier news conferences and welled up with tears when he invoked the pain of any parent missing a daughter. His swings have drawn attention to his passion and his policing — and how he is balancing those pressures on the 11th day with no sign of Graham.
Friends and colleagues who have known him for decades say it would be wrong to assume that Longo’s emotions are trumping judgment. The chief, they said, is a thinker and is tactical.
“Tim is a believer in doing the right thing. You can count on every word he says, so part of what you’re seeing is a guy who does the right thing trying to get everyone to do the right thing,” said Jack Ryan, a 20-year veteran of the Providence, R.I., police who has known Longo for years.
But others question whether Longo was being fair in repeatedly focusing on the man who voluntarily showed up at police headquarters.
Matthew, 32, spoke briefly to police Friday during a search of his car and apartment. Police say he was spotted with Graham on surveillance video on a downtown sidewalk the night she disappeared and was then seen in a bar with her.
Matthew then showed up at the Charlottesville Police Department unannounced Saturday, seeking a lawyer and later through his attorney declining to give a statement, Longo said. Matthew since has been charged with two counts of reckless driving and has not been seen since police say he sped away from law enforcement agents tailing him shortly after he left.
Police did not release additional information late Tuesday about what led to the abduction charge. Police updated a wanted poster and said they want to apprehend Matthew, who works as a nursing assistant at U-Va. hospital.
“I can’t understand why people can’t get this,” Longo said Tuesday morning. “We know this guy was the last guy with that woman before she disappeared. Why wouldn’t I want to aggressively talk to him?”
Longo said he knows others may debate his tactics, but he is doing “what I can legally do to accomplish this mission.” There may be arguments and “some may find it prejudicial, but this is no end run around rights. I am doing what I can to go from A to B and get Hannah back.”
Longo’s naming of Matthew, before a warrant for Graham’s disappearance, had surprised Doug Ramseur, who calls Longo “an excellent chief” who had shown more concern “than many other law officials in the state about wrongful convictions and wrong IDs.”
As president of the Virginia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Ramseur sits with Longo on a state panel reviewing those issues and said the chief has been “very reasonable and open about police procedures.”
But in the urgency to find a missing woman, he believed Longo was “trying to do indirectly what they can’t do directly” and compel Matthew to talk. “You’re not naming him to let him know you want to find him,” Ramseur said. “He found you. He walked into the station and has already said I don’t want to talk.”
The chief said his emotion in the Graham search shouldn’t be a surprise. “I am a father first and a police officer second,” Longo said. His two daughters and two sons range in age from 15 to 28. “I suppose I can come across as a bit too emotional sometimes, but it’s who I am, who I have always been, and I suppose, who I will always be.”
Longo became Charlottesville’s chief in 2001, after nearly 19 years with his hometown Baltimore Police Department. He entered the Baltimore force as a teenage cadet and left as a colonel heading the technical services bureau and a close aide to the commissioner. While on the force in Baltimore, Longo earned his law degree from the University of Baltimore.
Frederick Bealefeld III, a former Baltimore police commissioner who now works as the chief security officer for Under Armour, rose through the ranks with Longo and said even as a rookie, Longo was passionate and aggressive with uncanny intelligence.
And he is not impetuous, Bealefeld said. “He has a very legalistic kind of mind-set. You wouldn’t want to play chess against him. He’s very, very deliberate.”
As Charlottesville chief, Longo earns just more than $142,000 to run a force with 119 officer jobs and 38 civilian posts — fewer cops than in a district he once ran in Baltimore. Yet the chief is no stranger to high-profile cases, including the murder trial of then-U-Va. lacrosse player George Huguely V, who was convicted in the 2010 killing of his ex-girlfriend and fellow student, Yeardley Love.
Huguely was arrested within hours, preempting the need for extended, emotional news conferences. But watching Longo’s actions from a distance in the Graham case, Sharon Love, mother of Yeardley Love, said, “It’s a comfort to see someone personally involved rather than clinically.”
Longo’s Charlottesville tenure includes outcry in 2004 during a hunt for a serial rapist described as African American. Longo’s force approached about 200 black men, asking them to voluntarily provide DNA samples. The chief eventually stopped the genetic sweep.
That memory lingers with M. Rick Turner, president of the NAACP in Charlottesville who said he has a cordial relationship with Longo but heard echoes of the DNA experience in the publicizing of Matthew’s name and photo before Tuesday night’s charges.
Turner said he wants those responsible for Graham’s disappearance to be brought to justice, though police have yet to prove that person is Matthew. “If he’s guilty, the law would take its due course, but he hasn’t been found guilty,” Turner said.
Charlottesville lawyer James L. Camblos III, who has been a prosecutor in Albemarle County and nearby Waynesboro, said that he met with Matthew on Saturday and has been retained by Matthew’s family. Camblos couldn’t immediately be reached Tuesday night.
James Hingeley, the chief public defender for Charlottesville and Albemarle County, said he has been “very pleased” with Longo, who seems to set a good example for his officers and frequently participates in bigger initiatives to improve the criminal justice system.
“He wants to get it right,” Hingeley said.
Longo said that when communities view departments as treating members “fairly and justly,” police can rely on that “social capital” — a term he uses in his training classes — to carry them through when they need help.
University of Maryland Police Chief David Mitchell has heard one of those lectures, and “when Tim Longo speaks, people listen, and I’m one of them.” The two met when Mitchell was superintendent of the Maryland State Police.
Mitchell said he would “personally trust Tim Longo’s judgment” on the release of details in the case. “When you put the car out, when you put the identity out, their description, their picture and so forth, this could be a way that would spark somebody’s memory,” he said.
“If it was my daughter missing, I’d want Tim Longo,” Mitchell said.
A mother who has walked that tortured path said she too has been “impressed” with Longo’s handling of Graham’s disappearance and said it contrasted with the more guarded way Virginia State Police officials treated the unsolved case of her daughter, Morgan Harrington, who was killed sometime after she left a Metallica concert at the University of Virginia in 2009.
“He has compassion, as well as passion, about the investigation,” Gil Harrington said. “It’s kind of a different approach of a lot more transparency.”
Morgan Harrington was considered a missing person until police found her remains in Albemarle County. Her mother said she attended two of Longo’s news conferences about the Graham case and also met with the chief privately.
While she’s still looking for answers “right now, front and center on the horizon is Hannah Graham,” Harrington said. “I know where Morgan is. She’s in a box in my living room. But Hannah we need to find.”
T. Rees Shapiro in Charlottesville contributed to this report.