Drone used in search for missing U. of Virginia student Hannah Graham

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Police in Charlottesville, Virginia are looking for missing college student Hannah Elizabeth Graham. The University of Virginia student was last heard from on early Saturday morning, September 13, 2014 when she sent a text to friends at about 1:20 a.m. (Photo: Charlottesville Police/WTVR)

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Virginia — The search for missing University of Virginia student Hannah Graham now includes the use of an aerial drone — the first time, according to authorities, one has been used in the search for a missing person in the state.

The addition of the drone to the search effort comes more than two weeks after Graham disappeared from an area of Charlottesville known as the Downtown Mall.

The drone has a high-quality camera, and it will “look closer” at objects of interest, said John Coggin, chief engineer of the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership and one of the members of the team operating the drone.

As the drone worked from overhead Wednesday, more than 50 law enforcement personnel participated in the search in Fairfax County.

Investigators believe Jesse Matthew, 32, was the last person with Graham, who was last seen September 13. He has been charged with abduction with the intent to defile in the case, and he is being held in jail in isolation, according to Charlottesville police.

Matthew is being held in isolation in a Virginia jail cell.

Authorities are offering a $100,000 reward for information leading to the safe return of the 18-year-old, a second-year student at the university.

More than 3,000 tips to Graham’s possible whereabouts have poured in, Carter Johnson, a police spokesman, said.

As part of the search effort, police have asked owners of large parcels of property in surrounding counties to search their land and report back.

The drone is expected to help with the search of vast tracts of land in the country.

The search of Wednesday also included U.S. Route 29, outside of Charlottesville, where another woman reportedly disappeared.

The search follows reports that Virginia State Police found a “new forensic link” between the Graham case and the death of Morgan Harrington, a 20-year-old Virginia Tech student, who went missing after attending a Metallica concert in Charlottesville in October 2009.

Harrington was last seen hitchhiking along U.S. Route 29, and her remains were found on a farm months later.

Almost from the start, speculation was raised about the possibility of a connection between Graham’s disappearance and Harrington’s death.

No arrests have been made in Harrington’s case, and the cause of her death is still under investigation.

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