Friends Remember Police Chief's Daughter's Last Night Alive

N.C. murder suspect captured in Niagara Falls

September 20, 2010, 7:28 AM

Sept. 20, 2010— -- The convicted sex offender suspected of murdering the daughter of a North Carolina police chief was captured today, but the arrest did little to ease the grief of the woman's friends who had invited the aspiring special ed teacher to celebrate a girlfriend's birthday the night she died.

Michael Neal Harvey, 34, was apprehended by the FBI and U.S. Marshals today for the murder of 23-year-old Valerie Hamilton, according to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.

The FBI and U.S. Marshal Service arrested Harvey in Niagara Falls, N.Y. Detectives then found the 1996 White Chevy Blazer that Harvey is believed to have been driving prior to his arrest. The vehicle had been torched, marshals spokesman Daniel Larish told ABC News.

Harvey was picked up by 18 officers while he slept on the couch of a male friend's home, where he is believed to have lived once before, Larish said. Officers believe Harvey had been staying at the resident since noon on Sunday.

The spokesman said that Harvey appeared "dumbfounded" to be captured so quickly, but when asked by police "Do you know why we're here?" he responded, "Yes," Larish said.

Investigators later determined that Harvey appeared to be high on heroin and they found numerous needles and evidence of heroin in the house, Larish said.

The victim's father, Concord Police Chief Merl Hamilton, told "Good Morning America" that she was the "perfect daughter."

"I miss her and I need justice for her," Hamilton said.

Valerie Hamilton had been helping to celebrate a friend's 21st birthday on Sept. 14, the night she disappeared.

Kathryn Foster, the birthday girl, remembers Hamilton talking to a man at the bar when she left, but she is unsure whether the man she saw her friend talking to at the bar was Harvey, she told

Foster said that she didn't notice anything unusual about Hamilton and the man she was talking to. She also said that her friend was training for a triathlon, was not inebriated, "never did drugs," and was not a "party animal."

Hamilton was at the Thomas Street Tavern because she had made a huge effort to make Foster's birthday memorable.

"She came to meet up with me for my birthday and brought me a gift. She was selfless," said Foster. "She was making sure I had the best day ever."

"There were six or seven us at the bar, and we were having a great time and laughing," she said.

Foster said that the victim had given her running gear -- including a sweatband and energy bars -- because the two had been training together for the triathlon.

The two friends had a system where they would always send the other a text message at the end of the night to ensure that they'd each gotten home safely. But that night, Valerie Hamilton did not send a text.

"Of course I regret not making sure she got home OK, but at the same time, what made this night different wasn't none of us calling her. It was obviously this guy," said Foster.

"I think about how I left her every second," said Foster. "It crosses my mind, what if, but I know I can't think that way."

Friends of Valerie Hamilton Remember the Aspiring Special Education Teacher

Foster said that the group of girls decided to leave the bar around 1 a.m., but Hamilton stayed behind.

"She just wanted to finish her drink," said Foster, who recalls the bright, grass-green dress her friend had donned for the celebration. "She was completely coherent, she wasn't even at the bar for that long."

The victim had been at the bar for just over an hour, according to Foster, because Hamilton had worked until 10 p.m. before going home to finish editing a paper for school over the phone with her father, whom she spoke to "several times a day."

Robin Varner had eaten lunch with the victim just hours before her last night. She recalls that Valerie Hamilton had been speaking enthusiastically about her various jobs, including being an instructor at the Little Otter Swim School and a special education internship. She was looking forward to getting her teaching degree.

"She was so excited about where her life was going," said Varner.

Varner remembers her friend as a music fanatic who always had a different CD playing in her car and who would, no matter what, return home at the end of the night to dote on her puppy, Ruby.

"One of the hardest things that a lot of us are having a hard time with is that we've never seen Valerie cry or be sad," said Varner. "She was always the rallier of the group, she'd always get behind you and push you to get through it and think of the positive things. It's really hard to know that she had to go through something like this."

Police Chief: Daughter's Murder Should Serve as a Reminder for Young Women

Hours before Harvey's capture, Hamilton's father made an emotional plea with his colleagues to find and arrest the suspect.

"I want to ask my law enforcement brothers and sisters in the country to help me with this," Hamilton said on "GMA." "They took my daughter guys. Play it right, play it by the rules. You all get out there and find this guy for me. When it gets back my way, I'll pay you back."

Hamilton's body was found Sunday, stuffed into a storage locker.

Authorities say she was last seen at the bar with Harvey, a registered sex offender with a lengthy criminal record.

"She was a good kid. She was a wonderful kid," Hamilton said of his daughter, his voice cracking with grief. "She lived her life to take care of children."

Harvey was known to Charlotte authorities. He'd been arrested multiple times for crimes that included breaking and entering, heroin possession and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, authorities said.

"This is a very close-knit community," Padgett said. "The Hamiltons are very well-respected in their community. There has been a tremendous outpouring of support for the chief and his family."

Hamilton was reported missing after disappearing from the Charlotte bar Wednesday. Friends began to worry when she didn't come to work.

"It's not like her not to show up and let us know," her boss, James Kirk, said of the swim school instructor.

Hamilton said he wanted his daughter's death to serve as a reminder to all young women to be aware of their surroundings and stay safe.

"I hope that the other young ladies out there, that they'll remember the lessons they were taught as youngsters about being safe," he said. "It carries into when you're in the 20s, ladies.

"Make sure the men treat you with respect and be safe."

ABC News' Sarah Netter contributed to this report.