A 19-year-old hotel employee who police believe is in the country illegally has been charged with the murder of Jennifer Hampton, the 21-year-old waitress whose body was found over the weekend.
A man who gave police the name of Valentino Miranda is being held in Knoxville, Tenn., on one count of first-degree murder. Both he and a man who identified himself as Rogelio Melchor, 38, also an employee at the Days Inn where Hampton was staying on a business trip, have been held since Saturday on unrelated fraud charges.
Pending the processing of evidence, more charges may follow for both Miranda and Melchor, the latter of whom has not been charged in connection with Hampton's death, Knoxville Public Information Officer Darrell DeBusk told ABCNews.com today. Miranda was arraigned via video today.
Melchor, DeBusk said, remains a person of interest in the murder case. The two men are also being investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, he said. They told police they were from Mexico, DeBusk said.
Hampton, a pretty homecoming queen from Florence, Ala., was found Saturday in Melton Hill Lake about 5 miles from the Days Inn. DeBusk said the medical examiner's preliminary report stated that she had been strangled.
No Resolution for Family
Hampton was reported missing Saturday, Sept. 20, while on a business trip to Knoxville with co-workers to set up a new branch of Mama Blues Southern Cafe, an Alabama-based buffet-style restaurant where she worked.
Hampton's family, including her twin sister, was headed back to Alabama with her body today.
Eddie Daniel, the Knoxville attorney who has been acting as the family spokesman, said they are glad "the person or persons is going to be brought to justice."
"There's no resolution in knowing that their daughter and sister was brutally murdered and assaulted by someone who is in this country illegally and had no right to be here," Daniel said.
DeBusk would not comment on whether there was evidence Hampton had been sexually assaulted, but Daniel said police read him a report of the arrest warrant for Miranda alleging that he entered her hotel room with a key card, sexually assaulted her and murdered her.
Wyndham Hotel Group, which owns Days Inn Worldwide, issued a statement today saying that hiring decisions are left to local franchise owners and that Wyndham instructs those owners to abide by all local laws.
"I'd like to express our sympathies for the victim and her family," Days Inn Worldwide Media Relations Director Christine Da Silva wrote in the statement regarding Hampton's murder. "We are deeply saddened by this incident."
A message left with the owner of the Knoxville Days Inn was not immediately returned Wednesday.
'I Love You'
Daniel said Hampton last spoke with her mother around 11:30 p.m. Friday night. The two were looking forward to going to a local fair on Sunday when Hampton got home.
Hampton's mother told her daughter, "I love you. I'll see you Sunday," Daniel said.
The family and police are also looking into whether Hampton talked to or text-messaged a friend of hers Friday night.
Hampton and her co-workers were supposed to have returned to Alabama Friday, Daniel said, but their employers allegedly asked them to stay until Sunday.
Jim Lewis, who was identified as the owner of the Mama Blues Southern Cafe by a worker who answered the phone there, did not answer his phone Wednesday and does not have voice mail.
Part of a close-knit family that spoke often, Hampton, called "Jenny" by friends and family, had recently been accepted into a program to become a registered nurse.
Funeral services will be held Thursday at the Baptist church the family attended.
Quiet, but Well-Liked
Hampton, who had been voted homecoming queen by the student body during her senior year at Waterloo High School, was a quiet person who surrounded herself with friends, high school principal Ryan Harrison said.
Though Hampton was not an athlete, Harrison said he remembered seeing her at most football and basketball games, cheering on her school's teams.
A participant in school plays, she liked history. Harrison said her former teacher, now the school's assistant principal, always had good things to say about her when she took his class.
The school is very small, graduating about 30 seniors a year. The students all know one another, Harrison said, making Hampton's death that much harder to accept.
"We've had some students come and talk to me" and the school counselor, Harrison said.
On Friday night, hours before the body was found in Tennessee, the school held a fundraiser for her family, collecting more than $700 for expenses.
Students from Hampton's 2007 graduating class came back for the night's football game and released balloons into the air in her memory.
"Some of the students tied messages to the balloons," Harrison said, "saying 'I hope you're OK. We love you.'"