On 27 January 2016, Nichole Lovell’s mother went to check on her 13-year-old daughter in her bedroom in Blacksburg, Virginia not long after midnight. She discovered a dresser pushed up against her door and a stool under the open bedroom window. Her daughter and a blanket with the ‘minions’ characters imprinted on it were gone.

Three days later, Nichole Lovell’s body was found in a wooded area on the Virginia-North Carolina border. She had been stabbed at least 14 times. A missing person’s inquiry for a young teenage girl had turned into a homicide investigation.

Through interviews with her school friends and analysis of her online activity, police discovered she had met 18-year-old David Eisenhauer on Facebook in the months before her death. The pair had met up in person on more than one occasion and, as far as Nichole was concerned, they were in a romantic relationship.

In the days after her murder, CNN reported that a plot to kill Nichole Lovell was discussed and planned by Eisenhauer and his 19-year-old friend Natalie Keepers, both engineering students at Virginia Tech University, at a fast food chain restaurant in Blacksburg. Prosecutors believed that Eisenhauer was concerned Nichole was about to reveal his inappropriate relationship with her and her murder was to stop her doing so.

Forensic investigators found DNA evidence belonging to Eisenhauer under Lovell’s fingernails and her blood inside the boot of his car, linking him to the murder. David Eisenhauer maintained his innocence when questioned. Natalie Keepers, however, told police of their plans and how she had aided Eisenhauer to get rid of Nichole’s body, but she was not present during her murder, she told them.

The New York Daily News reported on “gruesome text exchanges” between the pair, discussing how to kill the young girl and dispose of her body. Eisenhauer and Keepers had also visited different Walmart stores and purchased a shovel and in the days before the murder, they reported. Cleaning supplies were purchased when Lovell’s dead body was already in the boot of Eisenhauer’s car.

A search of Keepers dorm room at Virginia Tech after Nichole’s body was found discovered the cleaning items and the ‘minions’ blanket which belonged to Nichole. Montgomery County Commonwealth’s Attorney Mary Pettitt believes Eisenhauer and Keepers plotted to kill Nichole “over the course of the month of January,” reported the Washington Post. David Eisenhauer was charged with first-degree murder and Natalie Keepers as an accessory to murder, both before and after the fact, in helping to plan the killing and aiding Eisenhauer in disposing of Lovell’s body.

18-year-old David Eisenhauer and 19-year-old Natalie Keepers

18-year-old David Eisenhauer and 19-year-old Natalie Keepers.

The risks for teenage girls meeting older men online are stark. The Sacramento Bee reported on 15-year-old Sabirya McClean, who just two months ago met 23-year-old Cole Herring on Facebook and agreed to meet in person on the day she went missing on 27 November 2017. The following morning police found her battered body hidden under a pile of leaves behind an apartment in West Philadelphia. Sabirya had been stabbed over 50 times before her body was set on fire. Herring reportedly confessed to the crime to his parents who called the police. He has been charged with murder, arson, and abuse of a corpse.

One month later in Illinois, 16-year-old Diamond Bradley was found in a ditch after suffering fatal stab wounds. 26-year-old Richard Henderson has been charged with her murder after the two met online.

In the UK in 2015, 15-year-old Kayleigh Haywood met 29-year-old Stephen Beadman, a friend of 28-year-old Luke Harlow, who she had met on Facebook and had begun communicating with online without her parents’ knowledge. The ordeal Kayleigh was put through before her death is harrowing.  Kidnapped and held in a flat for two days, she managed to escape before being chased, captured and raped. She was then forced to walk almost two miles to a field where she was beaten to death.

Beadman was convicted of rape, murder, and false imprisonment in July 2016 and jailed for at least 35 years. The man she met online who introduced her to her killer, Luke Harlow, was given a 12-year sentence. The Huffington Post UK reports how her story has been made into a video with the support of her parents, warning young teens of the dangers of online grooming.

David Eisenhauer in court this month

David Eisenhauer in court this month.

David Eisenhauer’s trial for the murder of Nichole Lovell started on 5 February 2018 with a plea of not guilty in Montgomery County Circuit Court in Christiansburg, Virginia. After just 4 days the trial ended abruptly when he changed his plea to no contest. In this plea, he does not admit guilt but does accept the state has enough evidence against him that could result in a guilty verdict if the full trial were to take place.

With the same effect as a guilty plea, Eisenhauer has now been convicted of murder and awaits his sentencing in May this year. He has been told he is facing life in prison. His accomplice, Natalie Keepers, who it is alleged to have joined him in his sinister plans and actions for ‘excitement’, is due to go on trial in September 2018.