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Sex offender arrested in slaying of police chief's daughter

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Arrest made in chief's daughter's murder
  • NEW: Police have recovered the vehicle the suspect was thought to be driving
  • The suspect was arrested in Niagara Falls, New York
  • The body of 23-year-old Valerie Hamilton was found Saturday
  • Her father, a police chief, issued a tearful plea Monday

WSOC: 'I never thought I'd be on the other side,' chief says
WIVB: Suspect is sex offender, has long rap sheet

(CNN) -- Hours after a North Carolina police chief issued a tearful plea for help in locating a registered sex offender suspected in the death of his 23-year-old daughter, the man was arrested in upstate New York, authorities said Monday.

Michael Neal Harvey, 34, was arrested without incident by FBI agents and U.S. marshals in Niagara Falls, New York, on Monday morning in connection with the death of Valerie Hamilton, according to a statement issued by Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina, police. Detectives from Charlotte were on the way to New York to interview Harvey and "work on the extradition process," the statement said.

Harvey was located inside a house in Niagara Falls, said Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe. The town was one of the places authorities thought he might flee, because he has relatives there, Monroe said.

Warrants for Harvey were issued on murder and auto theft charges, police said.

A stolen 1996 Chevy Blazer that police had said Harvey was last seen driving also was recovered in Niagara Falls, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police said. Authorities earlier had issued a description of the vehicle.

Earlier Monday, Hamilton's father, Merl Hamilton, the chief of police of Concord, North Carolina, about 30 miles northeast of Charlotte, issued a tearful plea on "Good Morning America" for help locating the suspect.

"I just want to get this guy now," he said.

Valerie Hamilton, who lived in Charlotte, was last seen between 12:30 and 1:30 a.m. Wednesday at the Thomas Street Tavern in Charlotte with a man believed to be Harvey.

Her friends and family became concerned when she failed to show up at the Little Otter Swim School, where she worked as a children's swim coach, according to CNN affiliate WSOC.

"It's not like her not to show up and let us know," her boss, John Kirk, told the station. He described Valerie Hamilton as "one of those bright, shining people that a kid can't cry around."

After several days of searching, Valerie Hamilton's body was found in a Charlotte storage unit late Saturday.

Monroe said repeated witness interviews and "very aggressive investigation" led authorities to the storage unit. He said the cause and manner of death was not immediately known, but an autopsy was being conducted Monday. When the body was found, it was wrapped, he said, and authorities avoided disturbing it as much as possible, he said.

The cause and manner of Valerie Hamilton's death, when determined, could result in additional charges being filed or the modification of existing charges, he said.

Investigators are focusing on several areas, including a hotel where media reports said Harvey was thought to have stayed and the storage unit where the body was found.

Authorities are not sure whether Valerie Hamilton was abducted or left the tavern willingly with Harvey, Monroe said. "Just trying to rehash Miss Hamilton's steps ... led us to Mr. Harvey," he said.

Authorities believe Valerie Hamilton was killed shortly after she was last seen, and her body had been in the storage unit for a couple of days, Monroe said.

When a reporter from CNN affiliate WVIB in Buffalo, New York, approached Harvey's relatives over the weekend, they refused to go on camera.

"He hasn't been here in six years," an unidentified man told the station. "Leave. That's my comment."

Monroe said authorities had not found a connection between Harvey's relatives and the house where he was located.

"I want to ask my law enforcement brothers and sisters across the country to help me with this," Merl Hamilton said Monday on ABC. "I'm trying to stay strong, and they know what it means because the cameras are on -- but he took my daughter, guys. And play it right, play by the rules, but y'all get out there and find this guy for me, and when it comes my way, I'll pay you back."

Video: Chief on daughter's murder
Video: Police chief's daughter killed

Harvey is a registered sex offender with a 1996 first-degree sex offense conviction out of New York, according to the state sex offender registry website. WIVB and the Charlotte Observer newspaper reported he had served time in prison. He also has a lengthy police record in North Carolina, including drug and weapons charges, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police spokeswoman Officer Rosalyn Harrington said.

Monroe said police had gotten word that Harvey knew he was wanted. "I don't think it came as any real surprise to him that authorities were able to locate him," he said.

Neighbors of Harvey's family described their Niagara Falls neighborhood as a quiet one, where families remain for a number of years, WIVB said.

Concord is "a very close-knit community," Mayor Scott Padgett said on "Good Morning America." He said there had been a "tremendous outpouring" of support for the chief and his family.

Hamilton told ABC young women should remember the safety lessons they have been taught.

"It carries into when you're in your 20s," he said. "... Make sure these men treat you with respect, and be safe."

Asked to describe his daughter, the chief said, "She was a good kid. She was a wonderful kid. She lived her life to take care of children. That's all she wanted to do. She was the perfect daughter, and I miss her, and I need justice for her and I need folks to be looking for this guy."

CNN's Ashley Hayes contributed to this report.