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Nightmare ends for Brittany, family

While family and friends anxiously await the arrival of 12-year-old Brittany Mae Smith back to the East Coast, Roanoke County authorities had their first opportunity to interview the Roanoke County girl in a San Francisco police station Sunday, according to Roanoke County Public Information Officer Teresa Hamilton Hall.

It is unknown when Smith will return from California, but family members said Sunday she will be moving back to Halifax County.
When asked where Brittany will live when she returns to the East Coast, her grandmother, Elizabeth Dyer, replied, “She will be here in South Boston. Her family is here.”

Formerly of South Boston, Smith and her 32-year-old suspected abductor, Jeffrey Scott Easley, were found safe in San Francisco on Friday (around 6 p.m. EST).

A customer at a Safeway store recognized Smith and Easley after seeing national media reports. The two may have been panhandling outside the store, authorities said.

San Francisco Police notified Roanoke County Police of their discovery at 6 p.m. and began processing the location where Smith and Easley had been staying, “near a tent” which was not far from the Safeway store, Roanoke Police Chief Ray Lavendar said in a Saturday news conference.

Easley was taken into custody without incident and is currently being held in San Francisco pending his extradition to Roanoke County, authorities reported.

He faces a felony abduction charge in Roanoke County and felony counts of attempted credit card fraud and credit card larceny in the City of Roanoke and is a suspect in the murder of Brittany’s mother, Tina Smith.

Smith and Easley were last seen Dec. 3 in Roanoke County. On Dec. 6, Tina Smith was found murdered at the home the three of them shared in Roanoke County.

Thus began a nationwide search for Smith and Easley and a homicide investigation into the circumstances surrounding Tina’s death.

The weeklong investigation generated more than 700 leads from people and law enforcement agencies nationwide.

Roanoke County continues to actively investigate the death of the 41-year-old former South Boston resident and considers Easley a suspect at this time, authorities said.

On Saturday Roanoke County Police said they believe Smith and Easley headed to California on Dec. 3, after last being seen on surveillance video at Walmart in Salem.

Dyer, Brittany’s grandmother and the stepmother of the late Tina Smith, said Sunday from her Eastover Drive residence that a memorial service has been planned for Tina at 11 a.m. Saturday at Ash Avenue Baptist Church in South Boston.

“It was her wish to be cremated,” Dyer said.

Tina’s stepmother confirmed she had received a copy of the autopsy report but said she is unable to comment on the findings in the report.

“I can’t say anything about it,” she said.

Meanwhile, family members said they are relieved to know Brittany is safe now.

“Brittany is safe with San Francisco Police and in good health. She has had the opportunity to talk with family in Virginia and will be returning home soon,” Chief Lavinder said this weekend.

On Friday night after learning Brittany had been found safe, Dyer told The Gazette-Virginian that family members were so excited they were “bouncing off the walls.”

Four Roanoke County detectives arrived in San Francisco at 2:40 p.m. (EST) Saturday.

“The officers said they were exhausted,” Hall added.

“Today (Sunday) the real serious work is getting under way. The interview is occurring right now,” she said.

The plan Sunday morning was for the detectives to talk with both Smith and Easley, Hall said.

Sunday afternoon detectives said much work remained to be done.

“Now that she’s been found and will be headed home soon, our department’s focus has shifted to the murder investigation,” said Roanoke County Detective John McPhail in a news conference Sunday afternoon in California.

“Because this is an active murder investigation, we are unable to share and details of our conversations. We don’t want to do anything that might jeopardize this case,” he said.

“It is important that we get justice for Tina Smith’s family.”

Back in Roanoke, Hall said there is no set timeline for when Brittany will return home.

“We know how the system operates in Virginia, but we are not as familiar with the California way,” she added.

“The folks working with Brittany (Sunday) work with children. That’s their job. They know how to talk to children,” she said.

Hamilton reiterated no timeline has been placed on Smith’s return to Roanoke.

“No, we don’t know when she will be headed back. We’re fluid on that. Authorities have ‘detective work’ to be done today, and they may have more tomorrow,” Hall said.

Easley is expected to be arraigned in a San Francisco courtroom on Monday, she said.

Roanoke County Police will be consulting with the commonwealth’s attorney with regard to charges related to the homicide, authorities said in a news release.

Hall said Easley is expected to consult with an attorney before deciding whether to waive extradition back to Roanoke.

“We will know more about that (Monday),” she said.

Hall said Sunday afternoon she is unaware where Smith spent Saturday night but noted “she is being taken care of.

“Brittany is safe with San Francisco Police and in good health. She has had the opportunity to talk with family in Virginia and will be returning home soon,” Hall said.

Police in California recovered the 2005 Silver Dodge Neon Roanoke County detectives had been seeking in a parking lot adjacent to an airport, authorities said.

Although she personally has not spoken with her granddaughter since she was found safe Friday, Dyer said Brittany’s father, South Boston Police Officer Benny H. Smith, has spoken with her.

“He was so excited. He just couldn’t believe it was true. He asked her what his dog’s name was and what her dog’s name was before he would believe it was really her,” Dyer said.

“You just never expect something like this to happen to anyone you know,” she said adding, she doesn’t believe Brittany knows the amount of attention this case has received.

“I don’t think she had access to a phone or Internet, so she just doesn’t know,” Dyer said.

Dyer maintained Roanoke authorities are staying “very tight-lipped” about the ongoing investigation under way on both coasts.

“We’re just waiting now. They’re not giving us a lot of information, but they have to stay tightlipped,” she added.