Local News

Volunteers End Search as Friends Hold Vigil for Former Wake Woman

Posted January 7, 2008 5:44 a.m. EST
Updated January 7, 2008 7:14 a.m. EST

— Officials said Sunday that the search in northern Georgia for a 24-year-old hiker who once lived in Wake County, N.C., will now involve only professionals in the grim effort to find what they expect will be her body.

That word came at the same time that people in the area where Meredith Emerson once lived, in Holly Springs, N.C., held a vigil planned when officials still had hope of finding her alive.

"We're not going to be using volunteers starting [Monday]" Georgia Bureau of Investigation spokesman John Bankhead said. "Given the scenario and the fact that it's a recovery effort, the mission has changed."

On Monday, the man accused of abducting Emerson is scheduled to appear in court in Union County. Authorities served a warrant Saturday evening charging Gary Michael Hilton, 61, with kidnapping with bodily injury.

More than 150 people had fanned out in the northern Georgia woods Sunday looking for Emerson's body.

Emerson, formerly of Longmont, Colo., recently had moved to Buford, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta. She went to Lincoln Heights Middle School in Fuquay-Varina and also attended West Lake Middle School. She grew up in a house off Holly Springs Road.

Family and friends held a vigil Sunday evening at the Devils Ridge Golf Club clubhouse in Holly Springs.

Caroline Beavers, who said Emerson was her best friend growing up, called her an "amazing person, just (a) fun spirit, great family, an all-American girl. She was one of a kind."

“Terrible things happen to great people. She was one of those few bright lights and great girls, and to see someone like that taken so early in her life, it’s really hard,” Beavers said.

Neighbors said Emerson grew up in a tight-knit community and was an important part of the neighborhood. Her family moved early in her high-school years.

"Her middle name was Hope. Meredith's middle name was Hope. Until they find the body, you're always hoping that there will be a miracle," said family friend Maria Cardone.

As they gathered to pray for Emerson, Hilton was being held without bail at the Towns-Union County Jail in Blairsville.

"Regardless of whether or not she's dead of alive, we just want to pray together and remember her together," said friend Kristin Flederbach.

The search Sunday focused on a 5-square-mile area of mountainous terrain about 90 miles north of Atlanta in the Chattahoochee National Forest, near where her car was discovered Wednesday, Bankhead said.