Samantha Josephson decided to call an Uber around 2 a.m. Friday after being separated from her roommates during a night out in Columbia, South Carolina, police said Saturday.
The 21-year-old University of South Carolina senior hopped into a black Chevy Impala, thinking it was her ride, Columbia Police Chief W.H. “Skip” Holbrook said during a news conference.
About 14 hours later, turkey hunters found her body in a field 90 miles from Columbia, he said.
“What we know now is that she had, in fact, summoned an Uber ride and was waiting for that Uber ride to come,” Holbrook said, citing surveillance footage. “We believe that she simply mistakenly got into this particular car thinking it was an Uber ride.”
Holbrook said he spoke with Josephson’s family prior to the press conference.
“Our hearts are broken, they’re broken. There is nothing tougher than to stand before a family and explain how a loved one was murdered,” he said. “It was gut wrenching, words really can’t describe what they’re going through.”
Nathaniel David Rowland, 24, has been arrested on charges of murder and kidnapping in connection with Josephson’s death, Holbrook said. He is being held in jail in Columbia. CNN has not determined if he has a lawyer yet.
Rowland also faces two misdemeanor charges for failing to stop on police command and for simple possession of marijuana, Columbia Police Department Public Information Officer Jennifer Timmons said.
Police are also questioning a female acquaintance of Rowland, who was in his vehicle at the time of his arrest, Timmons said.
Timmons said the acquaintance is cooperating with law enforcement and that there is no indication at this time that she was in the vehicle when Josephson got in the car. She does not face any charges from Columbia police at this time.
Chief says student’s blood found in suspect’s car
Holbrook described how the case came together quickly.
Josephson’s roommates began to worry when they hadn’t heard from her later Friday morning. Holbrook said, and they called the police around 1:30 p.m. Friday.
While Columbia police were starting their investigation, turkey hunters found a body around 4 p.m. Friday about 40 feet off a dirt road in a wooded area in Clarendon County, southeast of Columbia, Holbrook said. It was identified as Josephson’s.
Police searched for the car Josephson had gotten into before her death. Around 3 a.m. Saturday, a Columbia officer saw the Impala and stopped the vehicle, Holbrook said. When the officer asked the driver to get out the car, he ran but was quickly captured, the chief said.
Investigators searched the Impala.
Blood found in the car’s passenger side and trunk was matched to Josephson’s, the chief said, and her cell phone was found in the passenger compartment. Investigators also found a container of liquid bleach, germicidal wipes and window cleaner in the vehicle, he said.
Holbrook also said the child safety locks in the Impala were activated, which would make it difficult for anyone to open the back doors from the inside.
Police haven’t said how Josephson died and have not provided much information about Rowland, except to say he used to live in Clarendon County and knew the area where the body was found.
“Our investigators and agents have a lot more work to do,” Holbrook said.
CNN reached out to Uber Saturday, but the company declined to comment. Uber’s online safety tips advise customers to check that the license plate, driver photo and driver name match what’s listed in the app before getting in the car.
‘Searching for words of wisdom and comfort’
Josephson’s father, Seymour Josephson of New Jersey, confirmed his daughter’s death Saturday on Facebook.
“It is with tremendous sadness and of a broken heart that I post this! I will miss and love my baby girl for the rest of life. Samantha is no longer with us but she will not be for gotten (sic). It is extremely hard to write this and post it but I love her with all my heart. I could continue to write about her but it kills me. I sit here and cry while looking at the picture and write this,” his post read.
Josephson was a political science major, the USC College of Arts and Sciences said on Twitter.
“Our prayers are with Samantha’s family & friends, & we join the entire Carolina Family in this time of grief,” the college’s tweet said.
USC President Harris Pastides released a statement saying “our prayers are with the family and friends of Samantha Josephson following the devastating news of her death. Times like these leave me searching for words of wisdom and comfort.”
Pastides also advised students to “look out for one another, be active bystanders. Travel in groups and stay together.”
Columbia Mayor Stephen Benjamin said “nothing mitigates the pain of the loss of a child but I have full faith & confidence in the men & women of the Columbia Police Department & SLED as they ably investigate this tragedy.”
According to the Facebook page of Josephson’s father, the family lives in Robbinsville Township, New Jersey, about 10 miles east of Trenton, CNN affiliate WACH-TV reported. Robbinsville Township also released a statement on Facebook about Josephson.
“Mayor Dave Fried, B.A. Joy Tozzi and everyone in Robbinsville Township are devastated by the news that the Josephson family of Robbinsville have lost their precious Samantha. Our thoughts, prayers, boundless grief and endless support are with Seymour, Marci and Sydney at this unimaginable time,” the statement read.