I met Jesse Matthew on the Corner

Months before Hannah disappeared, my friend went home with him

The story I’m going to tell you isn’t out of the ordinary. It isn’t a tale of rape or assault or murder.

It’s the story of a night out on the Corner. A night out that seemed like any other night. Until we realized who we had been hanging out with.

A friend of mine and I went to the Corner on a weekend – a usual practice for us. Nothing out of the ordinary. We checked out Biltmore, stopped by Virg, and eventually ended up in No. 3 (it was still No. 3 at the time).

We met two guys who offered to buy us drinks, and we spoke with them for a few hours. They were friends, and both were what I would describe vaguely as bumbling idiots. It was normal bar flirting – inane conversations, laughing at things that aren’t funny because we were drunk, and talking about the people around us. At one point I believe we started to play pool – incredibly badly, which was the main event around which our interaction circled.

Eventually, the bartender announced last call, and we headed out. My friend and I parted ways, myself with one guy and her with the other.

The next morning, we texted each other, reconvened and discussed our previous night. She told me that nothing had happened with the guy, that he kept texting her the day after inane things like “Haz food?” and asking to come over.

We giggled over the stupid texts, and questioned if he was actually illiterate or just being funny. We actually talked about his friend more than him. His friend kept texting me ridiculously insensitive texts that made us break into laughter. He made much more of an impression than “haz food” guy.

Eventually, both faded away and we didn’t think of it again.

Until September of 2014 when Hannah Graham went missing.

Like the rest of the UVA community, we were scared. I remember being in complete denial of the fact that she possibly could have been murdered. I kept telling myself and my friends that she would turn up, and it would just be a big misunderstanding. This doesn’t happen here.

And then the devastation set in. The exact moment they found her body will forever remain in my mind. I was sitting in JPJ, waiting for Kevin Spacey to speak. Right before he walked on stage, I got a news alert – Hannah Graham was dead.

With this devastation came fear. Even myself, who had never felt in danger on grounds, began to act differently. I had a required film screening in Clemons Sundays at 7pm, and even though I lived just up the road in Rugby McIntyre, I would call my mom on each walk home.

One Sunday, the call dropped, and my mom called me back hysterical that something had happened. Everyone was on edge.

And then Jesse Matthew was revealed as the main suspect. He fled the state, and a police chase ensued.

When I first saw his picture, I gasped. He was the guy. The guy we had joked about being a little dumb, and perhaps overly persistent. The guy that my friend had taken home.

I texted her immediately, thankful in retrospect that she was OK and nothing had happened. Understandably, she was shocked. I was shocked. She was embarrassed and in denial. She asked me to never mention it to anyone, and was frantically worried that her mom would find out.

It still seems unbelievable that we met a man who is capable of such horrible things, a man who is capable of evil.

But the scariest part is how normal it all was. I remember people asking how someone could trust a stranger, or how Hannah could have possibly gotten a drink with him. And all I can think is: I did.

When I heard people wondering how she possibly could have ended up in that situation, I want to tell them that there is absolutely no blame on the woman. My experience is evidence that it can be literally anyone.

Even looking back I can’t think of a single thing that might have tipped me off. There were no moments of unease or anything about him that was scary. He didn’t give off an intimidating vibe or make me nervous at all. And that, to me, is horrifying.

Hannah Graham’s mother said at the trial that her daughter allowed law enforcement to apprehend a “serial rapist” who had been “hiding in plain sight in Charlottesville for years.”

A few months after the incident, once again I didn’t ever feel unsafe on grounds – which was naive. But Charlottesville has that effect on you. No matter how careful you are, how safe you may think you are, you might not be.

What makes me angry is that all of this happened during my second year, two years before Hannah Graham was murdered. Knowing now that Matthew has responsible for a number of young women no longer being with us, I am livid that no one caught him beforehand.

But I am grateful every day that it wasn’t my friend, it wasn’t me, it wasn’t us – because it could have been.

University of Virginia #virginia hannah graham jesse matthew national-us university of virginia uva