Photo of possible suspect in UNC murder

March 7, 2008 9:11:57 PM PST
You couldn't escape Eve Carson's presence at the University of North Carolina. The student body president welcomed all incoming freshmen - each and every one - to stop by her office for a chat. She was a member of the school's Board of Trustees and a tournament-winning intramural flag football team.

She had friends in the chancellor's office, friends on the school's top-ranked basketball team and more among the school's 28,000 students.

"She was a bright spot in anybody's day," said Seth Dearmin, a former student body president who met Carson during her freshman year. "She took time to talk to people, to listen to them. She cared about what they were interested in. That's what drove her. She was a completely selfless person."

And for it, North Carolina loved her back.

Police investigating Carson's killing began circulating a photo on Friday of a possible suspect to law enforcement officials. Sgt. L.B. Evans, the watch commander in the neighboring city of Durham, said his department was given the photo, but declined to describe its contents in detail.

Police in Chapel Hill declined to release the photo to the public late Friday, and Chief Brian Curran refused to comment when asked about the picture when reached at home, saying only that detectives don't have the names of any suspects. Curran said he would not answer questions about the photo until Saturday, when he planned a news conference.

Twice in the hours after learning Carson had been shot to death early Wednesday on a city street not far from campus, thousands of students, staff and faulty gathered to mourn her death. The tears continued to flow Friday, and it's likely the school will hold another memorial service after students return from next week's spring break.

University Chancellor James Moeser plans to attend services this weekend for Carson at her home in Athens, Ga. The Board of Trustees, meanwhile, has offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in her death.

"She touched so many lives over the period of four years that she was here," Moeser said. "Kids who didn't even know her felt they were touched by her."

The many memories make the mystery of her death that much harder to accept on the campus of the nation's first public university. Detectives know Carson was killed by a shot from a handgun to her right temple, and until late Friday appeared to have few solid leads.

"It's just a huge blow. It's a blow against everything we assume about ourselves, about being a peaceful, safe place where kids come," Moeser said. "She was a joyful person. She loved this place. She loved being here."

For now, police are looking for clues in her car: Officers believe the killer had access to her vehicle, but aren't sure of the circumstances. They are canvassing the neighborhood where Carson's body was found but don't know what she was doing there. Two callers to 911 reported hearing several gun shots, and one heard Carson scream.

"We've been getting a number of leads that we're trying to follow up on," said Curran.

Carson was last seen a few hours before, when she stayed behind at home to study as her roommates went out for the night. There were no signs of forced entry to the home, but Curran said authorities have yet to find her keys and wallet. There are no indications she had been sexually assaulted.

Curran said Friday police had been in contact with authorities in Alabama investigating the killing of Lauren Burk, an 18-year-old Auburn University student from Marietta, Ga., who was found shot and wounded Tuesday night. He said the cases do not appear to be connected.

Burk's family said they created a fund to help apprehend her killer. Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue said he has asked the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to offer assistance in both investigations.

Teachers at Carson's high school in Athens said she seemed destined for greatness. She was courted by prestigious universities who admired her both her leadership and interest in everything: science, politics and government, music and art and sports.

"I've been teaching for 26 years and honestly, she's truly one of a kind," said Clarke Central High biology teacher Buddy Sims.

"I've taught a lot of smart kids - Eve was a lot more than a smart kid. She was just incredibly inquisitive. She always wanted to know more and more and more. She was never satisfied with just a cursory look at anything."

Those qualities made Carson a perfect for the prestigious Morehead-Cain Scholarship, an award that packages a full ride to North Carolina with a legion of opportunities on campus and off. While in college, Carson studied abroad in Cuba and spent time working and voluneteering in Ecuador, Egypt and Ghana.

She was involved in campus programs for hunger relief, among many other activities, and was featured on the Morehead-Cain Web site that described her experiences working in Ecuador. "One of the most important lessons I learned ... is that poverty is not a pitiable thing," she said. "In Chillanes, I saw a respect for poverty and a respect for a non-material way of life."

Friends said Carson was weighing her next step. A pre-med student who majored in political science and biology, she was thinking lately about whether to instead accept an offer to work in New York for a business consulting firm. Another possiblity: taking a year off after four non-stop years of unquestioned achievement to travel the world.

"I could see Eve balancing a career as a professional, probably in the not for profit sector, but also being a wife and a mother because she was such a loving person," Moeser said. "The whole package. I get choked up thinking about it."

Associated Press writers Estes Thompson in Raleigh and Daniel Yee in Atlanta contributed to this report.