South Carolina law enforcement officials say there is “no danger to the transgender community” as a transgender teenager was found dead this week after going missing and two suspects were taken into custody.
Family members reported Jacob Williamson, 18, as a missing person to authorities in the city of Laurens, according to the Union County Sheriff’s Office. The family said they last saw or heard from Williamson on the evening of June 30, a sheriff’s news release said. The sheriff’s office launched an investigation into Williamson’s disappearance on July 2, according to the release.
Joshua Newton, 25, has been charged with first-degree murder and obstruction of justice. Victoria Smith, 22, has been charged with obstruction of justice and assisting Newton after he allegedly committed the crime, according to the sheriff’s office.
Newton is being held at the Union County Jail without bond, while Smith is being held on a $3 million bond at the same jail, records show. As of Thursday morning, it was unclear if either had obtained attorneys. Their next court dates are scheduled for August 8, records show.
Union County Sheriff’s Office Lt. James Maye said law enforcement doesn’t have a reason to believe Williamson’s preferred name and gender marker were part of the suspects’ motive.
The victim had an online relationship with the alleged suspect, Maye told CNN.
Williamson had established an online dating relationship with Newton a month prior to their first face-to-face encounter, Maye said, and Williamson had plans to meet up with Newton.
Williamson’s family told law enforcement that he had met with Newton and gave his family phone tracking information, which led deputies to the Monroe, North Carolina, area, Maye said.
The sheriff’s office said it received information that Williamson was “believed to be at a residence” in Monroe. Deputies made contact with Newton at his home and determined Williamson’s disappearance “needed some serious attention” due to “the way the suspect was acting,” Maye said. The investigation later led to Newton’s arrest.
The sheriff’s office and the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation conducted an “extensive search and investigation” over the course of 36 hours before Williamson’s body was found on July 4.
The Union County Sheriff’s Office is asking anyone with information related to the case to call 911, the sheriff’s office or Union County Crime Stoppers.
“My thoughts and prayers go out to the family of the victim in this case as they begin to mourn this unimaginable loss,” said Union County Sheriff Eddie Cathey in the news release. “Over the past several days, the men and women of the Union County Sheriff’s Office have fully dedicated themselves to this case and ensuring the people responsible for this tragic loss were brought to justice.”