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Police hunt for murder evidence in Elmo

South Boston NewsSouth Boston News
Troopers walked carefully along Ashton Hall Road in search of evidence in Saturday’s double homicide; above, a K-9 tracker sniffs out the woods nearby. (Liza Fulton photos) / February 13, 2020
Dozens of Virginia state troopers massed in the Elmo area on Wednesday to search for evidence as police continue their hunt for suspects in the Saturday morning double murder of a young couple found dead in the median of Route 58 in Turbeville.

A phalanx of troopers combed through woods alongside Ashton Hall Road for hours as they searched for clues into the slayings, which claimed the lives of Ntombo Joel Bianda, 21, of Alexandria, and Ayanna Munne Maertens Griffin, 19, of Germantown, Md. The search, which began Wednesday morning and ended around 2 p.m., appeared to yield results by early afternoon as officers could be seen bagging up an item of evidence.

Walking side by side in rows, officers clad in yellow vests closely inspected a strip of ground, four or five feet wide, running along Ashton Hall Road near its intersection with Melon Road. It was there that the apparent evidence was found.

Troopers could be heard congratulating a member of the search party for spotting an object that easily could have been overlooked.

Corinne Geller, public relations director for Virginia State Police, confirmed Wednesday that the search effort — which involved dozens of state troopers and tracking dogs — was tied to the Route 58 double homicide. She declined to say if the search had produced tangible results, citing the sensitivity of the ongoing investigation.

State police investigators with the Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s Appomattox field office are examining the possibility that a second vehicle was involved in the slayings on Route 58.

Ashton Hall Road, where Wednesday’s search was concentrated, lies off Melon Road in Elmo and several miles from Turbeville, where the lifeless bodies of Bianda and Griffin were found lying in the median of Route 58 on Saturday, Feb. 8, around 3 a.m. Their vehicle, a silver Nissan Maxima registered to Bianda, was crashed in the gully separating the four-lane highway.

Police have established that a shooting took place at the crime scene, but Geller declined to confirm if Bianda and Griffin were struck by gunfire. State Police are withholding preliminary results of an autopsy conducted Monday by the State Medical Examiner’s office. An agent with the Bureau of Criminal Investigation attended the autopsy to oversee the results.

“We’re not releasing the cause of death because of where we’re at in the ongoing investigation,” said Geller.

She said investigators have been able to establish several leads but encouraged members of the public to contact State Police if they have further information that could lead to the arrest of the person or persons responsible.

The portion of Route 58 (Philpott Road) where the victims were found is “fairly isolated and not heavily traveled in the overnight hours,” State Police observed in a press release issued Tuesday. The statement quotes Capt. David O. Cooper II, commander of the BCI Appomattox Field Office, as saying, “We are exploring multiple possibilities to include there being a second vehicle involved, which is why it is so important for anyone who may have seen or heard something suspicious early Saturday morning along Philpott Road to reach out to state police.”

Geller said Wednesday that “the second vehicle is just one of several theories we are pursuing to determine what happened. We have several leads, but we have to connect the dots.”

Geller emphasized that any tips from the public could be potentially helpful, even if it only puts investigators in contact with other individuals who have more information to offer.

“Sometimes having more than two vehicles traveling in [an isolated] area can be a suspicious occurrence,” she said.

Prior to Wednesday’s search in the Elmo area, state troopers, agents and investigators held a closed-door morning meeting at the Turbeville fire station before heading out to their destination for the day. Leaving a large number of State Police vehicles parked at the firehouse, officers made the short trip to Elmo where they staked out both ends of Ashton Hall Road — at its intersections with Melon Road and River Road — and closed off access to the quiet roadway.

At the corner of Ashton Hall and River Roads, teams of searchers waded into a patch of woods, then after a period of time regrouped by the side of road. The search team then marched off in the direction of Melon Road.

At that crossing, more officers pulled up, several with tracking dogs. An unmarked aircraft flew overhead, making several loops around the zone where troopers were combing through brush and woods.

On Monday, State Police, in conjunction with the Halifax County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office, obtained a search warrant to collect evidence from an unspecified property. That warrant was placed under seal by the court.

According to Geller, among the questions that investigators are seeking to answer is why Bianda and Griffin were driving on Route 58 in Halifax County in the early morning hours at the time of their deaths. Police have not commented on the circumstances of the murders.

“We’re still working on making a final determination of those questions,” said Geller on Wednesday. Investigators are “working on confirming those details as to their purpose for traveling Highway 58 and what their final destination was on Saturday.”


Below, the full text of the statement that State Police issued late Tuesday afternoon:

The Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s Appomattox Field Office continues to follow up on various leads related to the ongoing double homicide investigation in Halifax County. Investigators are still encouraging the public to come forward with any information related to the victims and/or the circumstances surrounding their deaths alongside Route 58 in the Turbeville community early Saturday morning.

At 2:51 a.m. Saturday (Feb. 8), Virginia State Police responded to Route 58 in Halifax County near Melon Road. A silver 2009 Nissan Maxima was located in the median with Ntombo Joel Bianda, 21, of Alexandria, Va., and Ayanna Munne Maertens Griffin, 19, of Germantown, Md.,found lying in the grass nearby. This particular stretch of Route 58, also known as Philpott Road, is fairly isolated and not heavily traveled in the overnight hours.

The two victims were close acquaintances. Thesilver Nissan is registered to Bianda. Their remains were transported to the Office of the Medical Examiner for examination and autopsy. At this stage of the investigation, state police is not releasing each victim’s cause of death. This particular stretch of Route 58, named Philpott Road, is fairly isolated and not heavily traveled in the overnight hours.

“Our special agents are diligently working to determine Mr. Bianda and Ms. Griffin’s exact destination Saturday morning and the circumstances surrounding their tragic deaths alongside Route 58 inHalifax County,” said Capt. David O. Cooper II, Commander of the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s Appomattox Field Office. “We are exploring multiple possibilities to include there being a second vehicle involved, which is why it is so important for anyone who may have seen or heard something suspicious early Saturday morning along Philpott Road toreach out to state police.”

Anyone with information about this incident is encouraged to call the Virginia State Police at 434-352-7128 or #77 on a cell phone or to email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). State police are looking for anyone who may recall having seen the silver Nissan Maxima with Virginia license plates anywhere between South Boston, Va. and Danville, Va. between the hours of 11 p.m. Friday (Feb. 7) and 3 a.m. Saturday (Feb. 8). State police would also like to hear from anyone who may have passed through this stretch of Route 58/Philpott Road near Melon Road between 2:30 a.m. and 3 a.m. Saturday (Feb. 8) and saw or heard anything suspicious. Anonymous calls are welcome.

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