Nearly two months after Bethany Anne Decker disappeared, seemingly without a trace, investigators seeking leads about the pregnant mother’s whereabouts conducted yet another search of an area near the Ashburn apartment where she lived with a man described as her boyfriend.
Sheriff Stephen O. Simpson, who was at the scene March 24, said he continues to hold out hope that Decker is just taking some time to herself, but acknowledged that such optimism fades with each passing day.
“We’re hoping, obviously, to find her alive and well someplace,” he said, pointing out that it’s not even clear whether Decker left of her own volition.
“Technically, this is a missing person case at this time,” Simpson said. “We don’t have evidence of foul play, but obviously the longer time goes by, the more likely there was some foul play involved this case.”
Simpson said continued coverage of the case could cause someone to step forward and offer some clue, even one the holder may deem of little value, that breaks the case or leads to a healthy Decker.
“We’re hopeful that as the days go by they’ll realize they have information,” Simpson said, adding that even people who have already spoken to investigators may be reluctant to hand over information they do not deem relevant. “However insignificant you think it is, we’d like to hear about it.”
The sheriff clarified that he was not suggesting a particular person was not being forthcoming, but instead that a potential witness may not realize they know or saw something that could help investigators.
Decker was reported missing Feb. 19 after her grandparents went to her apartment out of concern. They found her car, but not her.
Thursday’s search covered wooded and open areas near new construction across Loudoun County Parkway from the apartment complex where she lived. She was to move out of the apartment at the end of January.
Multiple searches have been conducted of the area around the apartment, which also has been searched. No clear signs of foul play have been found, but forensic tests are underway on several items, which potentially could determine otherwise.
“Nothing obvious, but we’re checking some things,” said Investigator Vincent Di Benedetto, a Sheriff’s Office spokesman who declined to identify or characterize the items being tested. “Basically that’s a routine thing.”
A press release issued March 23 indicates searches of the area may continue, possibly with the assistance of a helicopter. Multiple cell phones and computers have been searched during the investigation as well.
Thursday’s search was not the result of any specific information, but simply routine, Sheriff Simpson said. “We’re just trying to check all the bases.”
According to a press release, there has been no activity reported on Decker’s bank accounts, cell phone or email. But her Facebook account was used at least twice after her Jan. 29 disappearance. The activity there stopped sometime before her family reported her missing.
“Her friends told us there were things that were not characteristic of things she might say,” Simpson said about the Facebook messages. He said he could not positively say whether Decker posted the messages or it was “someone trying to make it seem that she was close by,” a notion called “speculation.”
DiBenedetto said no computer or person has been tied yet to the Facebook posts, but that investigators were working as quickly as possible to attempt to retrieve such information.
“It’s a very time-consuming thing,” he said, adding that it could take weeks with uncertain results.
Di Benedetto said investigators are relatively confident that Decker did not leave the country nor did she leave the area by flight.
“We’ve checked with the airlines,” he said. “She has not traveled by air anywhere in the country, at least not by that name, and she hasn’t crossed any international borders.”
The 21-year-old George Mason University student was seen Jan. 29 by both the man she to whom she remains legally married, Emile Decker, and the boyfriend with whom she lived at that time of her disappearance, Ronald Roldan. Both men continue to cooperate fully, according to investigators. Investigators could not say whether the men knew each other, or even of each other, when Decker disappeared.
While both men were recently described as “persons of interest,” Di Benedetto, offered a seemingly innocuous explanation.
“Basically, everybody who has spoken with her, who knows her, would be a person of interest. That’s not a suspect. There still are no suspects,“ he said, adding that investigators are open to all possibilities. “We’re not in a position to rule anything out.”
During a March 2 press conference, investigators carefully steered around questions about whether Decker had a boyfriend or romantic relationship other than her husband. Decker’s husband is a member of the National Guard who left for a tour of duty in Afghanistan on Feb. 2. He has since returned to assist in the investigation. The two have been described as estranged in some news reports, but DiBenedetto was unable to confirm the status of their relationship.
While a search warrant indicates Roldan may be the father of the 5- to 6-month-old child Decker is carrying, Di Benedetto said he could not verify that.
Di Benedetto said he had not seen the Roldan search warrant prior to the press conference, but also that the Sheriff’s Office was attempting to proceed with an abundance of caution by not acknowledging him.
“We were trying to avoid that ‘Nancy Grace moment,’ where no conclusion is too high to jump to,” he said, referring to the Headline News personality with he own show. Even if investigators determine that someone has done Decker harm, the net of suspicion would reach farther than just Emile Decker and Roldan, he said. Simpson, however, did clarify that Roldan is the only “boyfriend” investigators are aware of, correcting a previous misunderstanding.
Di Benedetto would not characterize final discussions Decker had with Emile or Roldan or whether the men described such discussions during interviews. Investigators said they have yet to untangle the story about the relationships – or whether they are relevant – and discourage any rush to judgment about anyone related to the case.
“There’re a lot of things in this story that make you go, ‘Hmmm,’” Di Benedetto said. “We do not yet have a crime. We have a potential crime. We have a strong indication that this is not typical of someone who has run away and doesn’t want to be found.”
He also explained that all missing persons cases are routinely treated as if something more serious occurred, as a precaution to preserve evidence.
Anyone with any information about Decker or the case should contact Investigator M. Halley at 703-777-0475. Anyone wishing to remain anonymous may call Loudoun County Crime Solvers at 703-777-1919.