CANTON, NC (WBTV) - A co-worker of a missing hotel employee who was found dead near her workplace on the Blue Ridge Parkway is now charged in her death.
Derek Shawn Pendergraft, 20 is charged with second-degree murder in the death of Sara Ellis, 29, of Seminole, Florida.
Around 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, the general manager of the Pisgah Inn on the 400 block of Blue Ridge Parkway in Canton reported Ellis missing. National Park Service Rangers and local rescue crews then began a search of the area.
Ellis was found deceased at 10:30 p.m. near a path connecting the inn to employee housing.
On Thursday, the U.S. Attorney's Office announced that Pendergraft was charged after allegedly telling the manager he had killed Ellis.
According to the warrant, Pendergraft originally said he and Ellis went for a walk after getting off work. He said when it began raining, Ellis turned around and went back to the housing area and he kept walking for about an hour. When he passed back by the place on the trail he had last seen Ellis, he saw her umbrella and hat on the ground and reported her missing.
When Pendergraft spoke to investigators, the warrant states, he said when Ellis decided to turn around that he "blacked out." He said when he came to he was "looking into the face of Sarah" and realized she was dead.
When her body was found, the report states, Ellis was in a state of undress. Investigators say Pendergraft's description of how he left Ellis was consistent with how she was found.
The cause of death has not yet been determined and the investigation remains active.
Ellis had been employed by the Pisgah Inn since May of 2018 as a pantry cook.
A GoFundMe was set up to help pay for Ellis's funeral arrangements.
Since the incident occurred on federal property, the FBI is handling the investigation with the assistance of the National Park Service and NCSBI.
Anyone with further information about the case is asked to call the NPS Investigative Services Branch Tipline at 88-653-0009 or the FBI at 704-672-6100.