After months of investigation and national attention, the search for missing mother of four Savannah Spurlock ended late Wednesday night when a search in rural Garrard County led to human remains.
Kentucky State Police confirmed Thursday afternoon that the remains found just before midnight near Fall Lick Road were those of 23-year-old Spurlock.
Just hours after her body was found, police charged David A. Sparks, 23, of Lancaster with abuse of a corpse and tampering with evidence. He was charged at 2 a.m. Thursday and booked into the Madison County jail at 3:42 a.m.
Wednesday night’s search involved investigators from Kentucky State Police, the Richmond Police Department, the Garrard County Police Department and the FBI.
The search began after a man’s attorney told police of a smell at the site. Spurlock’s remains “were located concealed in an unnatural position beneath the ground,” according to Sparks’ arrest citation.
Spurlock has been missing since Jan. 4, when she was last seen leaving The Other Bar in Lexington with three men. Around the time of her disappearance, police released photos of the men from surveillance video taken near the bar.
State police Trooper Robert Purdy confirmed during Thursday’s press conference that Sparks was identified as one of the three men she was seen with, and that no charges have been filed against the other two men.
Spurlock’s phone was last pinged at 8:30 a.m. the morning she disappeared and was not turned on since, police said.
Investigators said she was taken to a home in Garrard County the night she went missing, and Richmond police previously said the three men told police she left on foot in the morning.
Early in the investigation, police released that three men seen with Spurlock had been found in Garrard County and questioned.
After that, multiple searches were conducted by police in Garrard County.
The home where Spurlock was found Wednesday night had been searched at least once before, Purdy said. Investigators are still working to determine when Spurlock’s body was placed there.
Sparks lives at 3178 Fall Lick Road were the search was conducted, according to his arrest citation. The owner of the property wasn’t identified but it belongs to a relative of a suspect, Purdy said.
The charges against Sparks were based on the location of Spurlock’s body and the manner in which it was found, Purdy said. According to media reports, Sparks pleaded not guilty during his arraignment Thursday afternoon. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Monday.
Spurlock’s remains were taken to Frankfort for an autopsy, and while she was identified investigators are still working to determine her cause of death.
In addition to the remains, police found other evidence, according to Sparks’ arrest citation. Spurlock went missing with a phone and small purse, police said previously when they released pictures of the items.
After state police confirmed that the remains belonged to Spurlock on Thurdsay, her aunt, Lisa Thoma, made a Facebook video statement on behalf of the family.
“We are heartbroken to confirm that Savannah’s remains were found on the property of the home in Garrard County overnight,” Thoma said in the video. “Our sobs of pain and physical anguish are met with moments of our beautiful memories of the vibrant and vivacious person she was.”
Thoma also announced that a group created during the search for Spurlock, called “Missing Savannah,” would be taken down. The group had more than 37,000 members.
“As hard as the last six months have been the truth of what happened that night in January is going to be even more painful,” Thoma said. “We’ve fought a very public fight and now we must step away and grieve privately.”
On behalf of the family, Thoma thanked officers who have helped in the case and community members who have supported the family and search for Spurlock. She also thanked those who submitted the tip leading to the discovery of Spurlock’s remains.
“We could not have done this without the over 35,000 of you on this page who have followed, shared, prayed, searched, donated and advocated,” Thoma said. “You have kept Savannah’s silenced voice alive along with us in a fight for the truth ... you’ve embraced a stranger with empathy and compassion. Many of you have adopted her into you family as one of your own. Thank you.”
Thoma also said that the family prays that justice will be served to anyone involved in Spurlock’s death.
Ellen Spurlock, Savannah’s mother, described her oldest daughter in February as outgoing, kind-hearted and responsible. She believed the men Savannah left with on Jan. 4 were hiding something.
Thoma wrote a Herald-Leader opinion column July 1 pleading for people to come forward if they knew anything about Spurlock’s whereabouts.
Spurlock attended Madison Central High School and later went to Eastern Kentucky University, according to a university spokesperson.
Her best friend since high school and the godmother to Spurlock’s children, Sabrina Speratos, wrote on Facebook last month she would do whatever it took to bring Spurlock home. She led several searches after Spurlock’s disappearance.
“She was worthy. She was funny and kind. She is a mother. She is a human being. She is my person,” Speratos wrote.
Kala Hamblin, who became friends with Spurlock when they were both students at EKU, wrote in June it “broke her heart” Savannah wasn’t there living her “happiest life.”
“She’s not here doing things she loves, being with the people she loves so deeply, and most importantly, she’s not here working to build herself and her children the best possible life,” Hamblin said. “My heart has been shattered since I got the call about her missing.”
Spurlock’s family had offered a $15,000 reward for the first tip that led to her safe return or recovery. A private investigator was also recently hired by Spurlock’s family.