FORT VALLEY — The day after authorities found her body, most everyone here thought about Anitra Gunn.
The 23-year-old had been a senior at Fort Valley State University, the historically black college where she enrolled after graduating from Fulton County’s Westlake High School. She went missing on the morning of Valentine’s Day after spending the previous evening with her boyfriend, according to a Fort Valley police report. A massive search, involving volunteers and public safety workers from across Middle Georgia, ended Tuesday night when authorities discovered her remains covered with tree limbs in a patch of piney woods.
All over Fort Valley, people recalled how the beloved Gunn always seemed to dress just so and would smile easily, revealing dimples. At Shark’s Fish and Chicken, employee Nia Bell teared up while talking about her classmate’s plight.
“This situation is devastating. Every time I saw her, she was happy with a positive vibe,” said Bell, who is also a senior at Fort Valley. “It makes me scared as a woman.”
Fort Valley Police Chief Lawrence Spurgeon said his agency, the GBI and the Peach County Sheriff’s Office are “laser focused to get to the bottom of this and get justice for Anitra.”
An autopsy to determine the manner and cause of death is scheduled for Thursday morning at the GBI crime lab in Macon.
Gunn’s boyfriend, DeMarcus Little, 23, was arrested hours after her remains were discovered. He remains in jail without bond, charged with criminal damage to property, the Fort Valley Department of Public Safety said in a statement. The charges stem from a Feb. 5 incident that left Gunn’s windows smashed and tires slashed.
“More charges may be forthcoming,” the department said.
Little’s aunt said Wednesday afternoon she had no comment, except that everything is “in God’s hands.”
Gunn was reported missing on Valentine’s Day by her father, Christopher Gunn. He’d grown concerned because he couldn’t get her on the phone. Christopher Gunn told police he had spoken to Little and said Little said he’d gone to a party with Anitra Gunn, eaten with her at a Waffle House and then taken her to his house to spend the night, according to a police report.
Peach County Sheriff Terry Deese said investigators obtained security camera footage from the Waffle House showing the couple sitting down to eat around 2 a.m. Nothing seemed strange in their interactions, Deese said. Also shown on the video was Anitra Gunn’s white Chevrolet Cruze, which didn’t appear damaged.
The day after Anitra Gunn was reported missing, her car turned up abandoned, with the front bumper missing. The firefighters, police officers and deputies from various agencies and volunteers who searched for the missing student over the next few days kept the bumper in mind, in case they saw it. Christopher Gunn shook hands with everyone searching for his daughter.
A Peach County deputy driving near the Crawford County line Tuesday afternoon spotted something white near the woodline: a bumper. Tire tracks lead into the woods. The officer followed them and found Gunn’s body. Deese said he suspects someone drove her car into the woods, over a stump.
“What it appears is, the car pulls up over the stump, backs up and the bumper catches and rips off,” Deese said.
Christopher Gunn was talking with an investigator in Fort Valley when Deese called and asked to meet at the Peach County courthouse. At the old red brick building, Christopher Gunn learned his daughter’s remains had been found.
“The first thing a father starts thinking about is, ‘I couldn’t protect her,’” Deese said.
In a statement on behalf of the family, Christopher Gunn asked for prayers and privacy.
“Thank you to all who helped search and post and call and prayed for Anitra’s return,” he wrote. “We are processing the devastating news and kindly ask for respect and privacy during this time as we wrap our hearts and minds around all of this. Please continue to pray for us as, there are no words to describe this hurt.”
At Eighteen 36 Restaurant and Lounge, where Anitra Gunn worked, employee Joron Graves recalled her as a kind soul. She was always drinking fruit smoothies, asking him how he was doing, what kind of music he liked or what he thought about spirituality, he said.
“It’s heartbreaking,” he said. “She was real nice, kind and sweet.”
On Wednesday, no one appeared to be at Anitra Gunn’s small, sea foam green house with a white picket fence. On the front doorstep, someone had lit a candle.
It flickered as the wick slowly burned away.
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