For four days, authorities had been tirelessly combing through country backroads and woodlines across three Middle Georgia counties in hopes of finding a missing Fort Valley State University student.
On Tuesday, deputies stumbled across her car’s detached bumper 150 feet off a two-lane Crawford County road. Next to it, partially hidden under an assortment of sticks, was the young woman’s body.
DeMarcus Little, the boyfriend of 23-year-old Anitra Lashay Gunn, was first named a person of interest in her death by authorities, then arrested late Tuesday on unrelated charges.
“I think it’s pretty common sense who our person of interest is,” Peach County Sheriff Terry Deese said in a news conference Tuesday afternoon after discovering the body. “It’s the boyfriend. We’ve talked to him three times.”
Little, 23, of Fort Valley, was charged with criminal damage to property, but he does not face charges in connection with her death. Fort Valley police, however, said more charges could be forthcoming.
The investigation began after Gunn, a senior agriculture major who graduated from Westlake High School in south Fulton County, stopped returning her family’s and friend’s calls and texts Friday morning. She last spoke to her father, Christopher Gunn, when he called to wish his daughter a happy Valentine’s Day.
Because she rarely went hours without messaging them, her family immediately became worried.
Her friend, India King, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that she would never leave her cat and dog alone without food.
“(These are) all red flags that make us more concerned on her whereabouts,” King said in a message Monday.
A search of Gunn’s apartment after her disappearance found no sign of forced entry, but police accused Little of damaging her home and car more than a week earlier.
According to a police report obtained Wednesday by the AJC, Gunn was awakened Feb. 5 by the sound of breaking glass. She found a window near the backdoor shattered by a brick and later discovered her tires slashed.
Gunn reported the damage but told police she did not know who was responsible. Charges were not taken against Little until Tuesday, according to the report.
Gunn’s case is eerily similar to the October disappearance of Clark Atlanta University senior Alexis Crawford. Crawford, 21, lived in an off-campus apartment. Family members became alarmed when they were unable to reach her.
A week after her family reported her missing, Crawford’s body was found in a DeKalb County park. Her roommate and her roommate’s boyfriend were charged with murder. Jordyn Jones, 22, and Barron Brantley, 21, both remain in the Fulton County Jail.
Peach County deputies’ first break in Gunn’s case was the discovery of her damaged Chevrolet Cruze that was left abandoned at a house off Belle Street. That’s about 4 miles from where the car’s bumper and her body were discovered.
The GBI on Wednesday confirmed the remains were positively identified as Gunn, according to police. Her cellphone is still missing.
Deese said shrubbery that was found in the front grill of her car led them to search nearby roads in Crawford, Peach and Taylor counties.
“They’ve been riding here for two days, going down any roadway they could get a car down or truck down,” the sheriff said of the search. “Like I said, we’d leave no stone unturned, but this was basically just pot luck.”
The discovery of her body about 3 p.m. Tuesday raised several questions, which the sheriff pondered out loud.
“We’re not saying it is a homicide, but the car shows up in Fort Valley,” he said. “It didn't show up by itself. She couldn’t have driven it there herself.”
Deese did not provide further details about what was discussed during interviews with Little.
When Gunn was initially reported missing, her father said Little was the last person to see her. Little told the man that the couple returned to a relative’s house about 3 a.m. Friday after visiting a Waffle House in nearby Byron about an hour earlier. According to Deese, her vehicle’s bumper was not damaged when they stopped for late-night grub.
Little told Gunn’s father that she left the house about 11 a.m. Friday, according to a missing person’s report.
An autopsy is scheduled to be performed by the GBI on Thursday. The state agency was requested to conduct the death investigation by the Crawford County Sheriff’s Office, which has joined a task force that also includes Fort Valley police and Peach County deputies.
The investigation into Gunn’s death is ongoing, and anyone with information is asked to contact the Fort Valley Police Department at 478-825-3384 or Macon Regional Crimestoppers at 877-682-7463 or 478-742-2330.
— Staff writers Chelsea Prince and Alexis Stevens contributed to this article.
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