Slain college student may have mistaken suspect's car for Uber, police say

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By Phil Helsel

A man in South Carolina will be charged with murder in the slaying of a college student who may have entered his car mistakenly thinking it was a ride-share vehicle, police in Columbia said Saturday.

Samantha Josephson, 21, a student at the University of South Carolina, had last been seen by friends early Friday, and her body was found hours later by two hunters, Columbia Police Chief William H. Holbrook told reporters.

Surveillance video showed Josephson entering a car the morning she went missing, Holbrook said.

About 3 a.m. Saturday, police pulled over a black Chevrolet Impala matching the one on the video and arrested Nathaniel D. Rowland, 24, after a foot chase, he said.

This undated photo provided by the Columbia Police Department shows Samantha Josephson, a University of South Carolina student who was reported missing after last being seen Friday, March 29, 2019. The university on Saturday confirmed the death of the student.Columbia Police Department via AP

Rowland will be charged by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division with kidnapping and murder, he said.

“We believe that she simply mistakenly got into this particular car thinking it was an Uber ride,” Holbrook said.

After arresting Rowland, police found blood in the car that was later matched to Josephson and her cell phone, he said.

Investigators believe child-safety locks were activated that would have prevented someone in the back from escaping, Holbrook said, adding that bleach, germicidal wipes and window cleaner were also found in the car.

“Our investigators and agents have a lot more work to do,” he said.

Police did not say how Josephson was killed. Rowland has been booked at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center in Columbia, according to online jail records. Those records do not list attorney information.

This undated photo provided by the Columbia Police Department shows Nathaniel David Rowland.Columbia Police Department via AP

Holbrook said he met with Josephson’s family Saturday.

“Words really can’t describe obviously what they’re going through,” he said. “Our hearts are broken. They’re broken.”

Police were called on a report of a missing person about 1:30 p.m. Friday after Josephson’s roommates, who were out with her that night but got separated, were unable to reach her and became worried, Holbrook said.

About two hours later, two turkey hunters found a body in a wooded area about 65 miles from Columbia in Clarendon County, he said. Authorities “quickly realized” the body appeared to be that of the missing student.

Police believe Rowland recently lived in the area where the body was found, Holbrook said.

Josephson was a senior majoring in political science, a university spokesperson said.

Daniela Jaimes, a college Spanish instructor who taught Josephson for two semesters, told NBC affiliate WIS of Columbia, “She was a light … You went into the classroom; I smiled immediately when I saw her.”

“It’s not fair,” Jaimes said. “It’s not fair how — how her life got cut short. How she’s not going to fulfill her dream of being in international law, how she’s not going to be able to fulfill the plans that her and I had talked about.”

University President Harris Pastides said in a statement that “Our prayers are with the family and friends of Samantha Josephson following the devastating news of her death.”

“As you make plans for the weekend, remember the tenets of Stand Up Carolina: look out for one another, be active bystanders. Travel in groups and stay together,” he said.

Uber encourages users to make sure they are getting into the right car by using its app to check the make and model and the license plate and having the driver confirm the passenger’s name.