A retired Navy veteran was charged Wednesday in the death of Ashanti Billie, the 19-year-old woman who was found dead in North Carolina days after disappearing from her job at Virginia naval base, federal prosecutors say.
Eric Brian Brown, 45, faces a murder charge from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and a federal kidnapping charge, the police department and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Virginia announced Wednesday.
Brown, who is homeless, worked as a day laborer and lived at buildings on and around the naval bases, according to an arrest affidavit. As a retired Navy petty officer, Brown had access to Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek in Virginia Beach. Prosecutors said the 21-year Navy veteran visited Billie's workplace almost daily.
"He preyed on her," Ashanti Billie's father, Meltony Billie, said Thursday morning.
Billie, a student at The Art Institute of Virginia Beach, was reported missing on Sept. 18 after she failed to show up for her job at the Blimpie sandwich shop on the naval base.
Her body was found 11 days later and more than 300 miles away, outside a church in a residential neighborhood of Charlotte.
Billie's parents, who both are veterans, said Thursday that they thought their daughter, who stood only 4-foot-11, would be safe on a military base.
"If this was allowed to happen on a naval base, it can happen anywhere," Billie's mother, Brandy Billie said.
"How was it that this guy was allowed to roam around base?" Meltony Billie asked.
Brandy Billie said Wednesday that she was "grateful" Brown was charged, but had a lot of questions and wants to know how it was possible for Brown to live on the military base.
"Where's the security? Something has to be done. That's not secure," she said.
She said seeing Brown's picture was "like looking at a monster."
"This is the person -- this is the coward that took our child's life?" she said.
"This was a veteran that did this to us. [Ashanti] was a child of veterans. She's been around the military her whole life," Brandy Billie continued.
Brown told a law enforcement informant on Oct. 2, after Billie's body was found, that he hated African-American women. He said they were "gold diggers" who "only want guys with all the money," court documents say.
Witnesses reported Brown "attempting to flirt with Billie" on several occasions. One witness said he made a "crude sexual comment" to her.
Billie left her Virginia Beach home about 4 a.m. Monday, Sept. 18 to go to work. She was supposed to start early to prepare for a scheduled health department inspection.
Prosecutors say she was wearing dark-colored clothing and her white 2014 Mini Cooper was seen on camera entering the naval base around 4:45 a.m. Surveillance video shows a man who resembles brown, wearing light-colored clothes, driving Billie's car off the base at 5:33 a.m.
About 5:40 a.m., a residential surveillance camera appears to show Billie's car stopped near a construction dumpster about 2 miles away. A man is seen getting out of the car and appears to throw something into the dumpster. Construction workers later found Billie's cellphone there and turned it over to police in Norfolk.
"No passengers were seen seated in the vehicle other than the driver," prosecutors said the footage showed.
Five days after Billie's car was seen on camera, the vehicle was found in Norfolk on Saturday, Sept. 23. It was unlocked, and the security key fob was on the passenger seat. Billie's work shirt, a pair of dark-colored pants and a shoe were found in "the rear compartment" of the car, covered in dirt.
Six days later, on Friday, Sept. 29, Billie's partially clothed body was found behind East Stonewall AME Zion Church in Charlotte.
Brown grew up near the church and went to vacation Bible school there as a child, prosecutors said.
He was arrested on unrelated trespassing charges in October and officers questioned him about Billie's disappearance. Brown said he "blacked out" on Sept. 17, the night before Billie went missing, and had "no recollection of what he did for several days after that," prosecutors said.
A review of his cellphone showed he made multiple searches for "police looking for man" and "Norfolk police looking for man in connection to homicide."
DNA recovered from Billie's body was consistent with Brown's DNA profile, prosecutors said.
Brown faces up to life in prison if convicted on the kidnapping charge. It could not be immediately determined if he has a lawyer.