After being separated from her roommates during a night out in Columbia, South Carolina, Samantha Josephson did the responsible thing and called a car. But the 21-year-old University of South Carolina student never made it home, as she climbed into the car of a man police said would later kill her.
About 4 p.m. Friday, turkey hunters found Samantha’s body off a dirt road in a secluded, wooded area about 65 miles from Columbia.
It had been about 14 hours since Josephson was last seen alive, and the gruesome discovery was made as police worked to retrace her steps after her roommates called police about 1:30 p.m. after she failed to make it home.
“Our hearts are broken; they’re broken,” Columbia Police Chief W.H. Holbrook said at a press conference on the grim conclusion to the department’s investigation.
Investigators said they obtained surveillance footage apparently showing Josephson getting into a black Chevy Impala that wasn't being driven by the Uber driver she had contacted but by Nathaniel David Rowland.
“What we know now is that she had, in fact, summoned an Uber ride and was waiting for that Uber ride to come,” Holbrook told reporters. “We believe that she simply mistakenly got into this particular car thinking it was an Uber ride.”
Police spotted the Impala that Josephson got into about 3 a.m. Saturday. They pulled it over and asked the driver to get out of the vehicle, and the man ran but was quickly captured, Holbrook said.
Rowland, 24, was arrested and charged with murder and kidnapping in connection to Josephson's death. He also faces two misdemeanor charges for failing to stop on police command and for simple possession of marijuana, CNN reported. He is being held in jail in Columbia.
Officers searched the Impala and said they found blood in the car’s passenger side and trunk, which came back a match to Josephson. They said they also found a container of bleach, window cleaner, germicidal wipes and Josephson's cellphone in the car.
Investigators said Rowland also knew the area in which Josephson's body was found.
The Clarendon County Coroner found Josephson died of “multiple sharp force injuries,” the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division said Monday.
Court documents released by the agency said Josephson suffered “numerous wounds evident on multiple parts of her body to include her head, neck, face, upper body, leg and foot.”
It was not immediately clear what weapon was used in the murder, or if investigators had found any weapon at all.
Authorities said the child safety locks in the Impala that Rowland was found to be driving were activated, making it impossible for anyone in the back seat to get out through those doors on their own.
Police are questioning a woman who was with Rowland in the Impala when he was stopped and arrested, but she is cooperating with investigators and there is no indication she was with him when Josephson got into the car, according to CNN.
The case’s quick turnaround and ensuing arrest did little to assuage Josephson's loved ones, who were devastated to learn of her death, Holbrook said.
“There is nothing tougher than to stand before a family and explain how a loved one was murdered,” he told reporters. “It was gut wrenching; words really can’t describe what they’re going through.”
Josephson's father, Seymour Josephson, took to social media to confirm his daughter’s death.
"It is with tremendous sadness and of a broken heart that I post this! I will miss and love my baby girl for the rest of life,” Seymour wrote, sharing a photo of himself and Samantha. “Samantha is no longer with us but she will not be for gotten (sic). It is extremely hard to write this and post it but I love her with all my heart. I could continue to write about her but it kills me. I sit here and cry while looking at the picture and write this.”
Samantha was majoring in political science, the USC College of Arts and Sciences said. She was from Robbinsville Township, New Jersey, about 10 miles east of Trenton.
“She was a beloved daughter, sister and friend that will forever be remembered in our hearts,” read a GoGetFunding page created to support her family.
Samantha’s mother, Marci Josephson, on Sunday made an emotional statement to the judge set to preside over a court hearing for Rowland, who waived his right to appear.
“He’s taken away a piece of our heart, soul and life. Shame on him,” she said. “We thought he would be here to see his evil face. I cannot fathom how someone could randomly select a person, a beautiful girl and steal her life away.
“His actions were senseless, vile and unacceptable,” she continued. “It sickens us to think that his face was the last thing that my baby girl saw on this earth. Does he even know her name?”
Marci described her daughter as bubbly, loving, kind and full of life. She was a hard worker and planned to start law school in the fall, her mother said.
“Unlike him, Samantha valued human life and could never harm another soul. Unlike him, Samantha had love within her heart and purpose in her life, the life he brutally ended,” she said. “He took away our daughter, a sister, a granddaughter, a niece, a cousin and a friend to so many. His selfish, unspeakable and violent actions have created a hole in the universe. A hole in our universe and we see the unimaginable ripple, affect her world.”
She asked that the court deny Rowland the chance to ever walk free again. His case is being moved to general sessions, where a judge there will decide if bond will be given. His next court appearance is scheduled for April 22.
“He should never be given the right to walk free again for what he did to my daughter, or given the opportunity to hurt anyone else,” Marci said. “Samantha Josephson. My daughter’s name is Samantha Josephson. Don’t ever forget her name. Samantha Josephson. Shame on him.”
Samantha’s funeral and burial are scheduled for Wednesday in New Jersey.