Jacksonville, N.C. — North Carolina officials confirmed that the suspect in the slaying of a 20-year-old pregnant Marine might have been sighted in Shreveport, La., on Saturday night.
The Associated Press reported early Saturday afternoon that Marine Cpl. Cesar Armando Laurean was spotted in Shreveport, La., around 10 p.m. Saturday, possibly heading to Texas. Shreveport police Chief Henry Whitehorn Sr. said several passengers reported to federal authorities that they saw Laurean getting on or off a Greyhound bus.
Onslow County Sheriff Ed Brown said his agency – which charged Laurean with the murder of Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach – confirmed that a possible sighting had taken place in Shreveport. He would not say that authorities had confidently identified the man sighted as Laurean.
"It'd be foolish for me to say where he's at unless we've got him chained," Brown said.
Laurean, 21, was described as a white man, 5 feet, 9 inches tall and 160 pounds, with black hair and brown eyes. He was believed to have left his home driving a black 2004 Quad Cab Dodge pickup with North Carolina license plate TRR-1522.
Brown did not say if that vehicle had been spotted Saturday, but said the man sighted was not wearing a disguise. The Onslow sheriff would not comment on any contacts Laurean might have.
The Shreveport Police Department ordered all its officers to be on the lookout for Laurean, but no further sightings have been reported.
Earlier Sunday, Brown said his office received news around midnight that a member of the general public had spotted Laurean in a "transit station ... two or three states away from North Carolina." Brown did not specify in which state the sighting occurred.
The witness spent some time with the suspect and said Laurean appeared to be traveling alone, Brown said, adding that he hoped Laurean would soon be in custody.
Brown urged members of the public not to try to detain Laurean whom he described as having "a real hideous behavior about him." Based on the nature of the slaying, Laurean "could be a dangerous and violent person if he was put in a corner," the Onslow County sheriff said.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation issued an arrest warrant against Laurean for unlawful flight to avoid prosecution on Sunday, said FBI officials in Charlotte. Bureau spokesman Newsom Summerlin said investigators do not have any reason to believe that Laurean has fled the country, although that remains a possibility.
The bus Laurean was riding was headed to Texas, Brown said, but authorities yet do not know if he continued along that route.
"Nowadays, with international travel, you just never know where a fugitive is going to end up," Summerlin said. "There is always the possibility that they could flee internationally."
An Onslow County sheriff's deputy suggested authorities might only be a couple hours behind Laurean, but Brown said he could not promise a specific time line.
"I can't promise that he'll be here tonight, but I do feel comfortable that his vacation will be short," Brown said. "His travel may be long, but we'll make sure he returns soon."
Brown expressed confidence that law enforcement agents could ensure safety if Laurean were caught in a public place.
Laurean lived in Jacksonville while stationed at Camp Lejeune but is from Clark County, Nev.
Shreveport is roughly 950 miles southwest of Jacksonville, two dozen miles from the Texas border and three hours east of Dallas.
Laurean disappeared from his house around 4:30 a.m. Friday after authorities intensified their search for Lauterbach. On Saturday, Brown said someone used Lauterbach's ATM card in a North Carolina city.
The Marine Corps, U.S. Marshals, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Naval Criminal Investigative Service and State Bureau of Investigation were assisting in the search, Brown said.
"We've got about every law enforcement agency that represents the American people involved in this manhunt," he said.
Lauterbach disappeared sometime after Dec. 14, not long after she met with military prosecutors to talk about moving forward with her allegations that Laurean raped her. She first reported those charges against him to military officials in April.
Late last week, local authorities said they had indications the two had a "friendly relationship" and did not consider him a flight risk. Before he fled, Laurean refused to talk to the Onslow County Sheriff's Office, per his attorneys' advice. He left without telling his attorneys.
Lauterbach's uncle, Pete Stenier, denied that any kind of relationship existed between the two. Her attacker was the father of her child, Steiner said.
Lauterbach's relatives questioned whether military authorities made enough effort to protect her. Steiner said Lauterbach – stung by harassment that eventually forced her to move off base – decided to drop the case the week before she disappeared.
Paul Chiccarelli, the special agent in charge of NCIS at Camp Lejeune, said Marine commanders submitted requests in October to send the case to the military's version of a grand jury. A military protective order was automatically issued in May and renewed three times.
Lauterbach and Laurean served as personnel clerks in the same unit of the II Marine Expeditionary Force.
One of Lauterbach's roommates, Melinda Artzer, a former Marine, said Lauterbach confided in her about the alleged rape.
"She proceeded to tell me that she came home one night," Artzer said. "She was walking ... in the barracks parking lot, towards the barracks, and someone came out of the dark and attacked her."
Officials with the Women Veterans of America organization said the case of Lauterbach could create an impediment for female military personnel reporting future sexual attacks within the ranks.
"Unfortunately, women in today's military who have been sexually assaulted now have an added pressure to not go forth to report these crimes," Colleen Mussolino, the group's national commander, said in a release. "Their fears have been reinforced by today's horrendous events (which) have re-traumatized them."
Laurean's wife, Christina – whom Brown described as cooperative – turned a note left by her husband into the sheriff's office at 8 a.m. Friday. In the note, Laurean claimed Lauterbach had committed suicide in his home and then he buried her body in the back yard.
On Saturday, her burnt remains and those of her unborn child were excavated from a fire pit in Laurean's backyard.
"As well as I could see, the body was much charred," Brown said. "One of the things that will probably stick with me for a long time, and forever, is that little hand, the way those fingers were turned, that had been burned off the arm.
"That is bizarre. That is tragic. And it's disgusting."