Stryker found: Manhunt for murder suspect ends in Pittsburgh

  • Austin Bender holds a candle in honor of his sister as he consoles his mother Carol Gillreath at last week’s vigil on Lake Zwerner.
    Austin Bender holds a candle in honor of his sister as he consoles his mother Carol Gillreath at last week’s vigil on Lake Zwerner.

The widespread search for murder suspect Austin Todd Stryker, 22, came to an end just after 1 a.m. Wednesday morning when the Dawsonville resident was taken into custody by authorities in Pittsburgh, Penn.
“We had relayed some information that led us to a possible location,” said Lumpkin County Sheriff Stacy Jarrard.
Stryker is the main suspect in the murder of Dahlonega resident Hannah Bender. The body of the 21-year-old was discovered buried in a pasture in Forsyth County on September 25.
Soon after the discovery the search for Stryker began to intensify as the U.S. Marshals-led Southeast Regional Fugitive Task Force circulated an online wanted poster with the promise of a $5,000 reward for information leading to the capture of the suspect.
It has been reported that Stryker turned himself in to authorities, but Jarrard said he could not yet confirm that.
So far there have been several arrests made in connection with the case.
After the body of Bender was discovered last week, Stryker’s significant-other Elizabeth Donaldson was reportedly charged with tampering of evidence.
On Monday evening Dawson residents Isaac Huff and Dylan Reid were arrested by the Georgia Bureau of Investigations and charged with concealment of a body.
On Tuesday, Dahlonega resident Bailey Williams, 21, was arrested and charged with tampering of evidence.
Jerry Harper, 78, who was allegedly one of the last people seen with Stryker, was arrested and charged with concealment of death and tampering of evidence.
Jarrard said Bender was found buried in a shallow grave on land belonging to an acquaintance of Harper.
The owner of the land is not a suspect in the crimes, he added.
“It was someone that had nothing to do with the incident,” said  Jarrard.
Last Thursday evening a candlelight vigil was held on the banks of Lake Zwerner as dozens of friends and family members remembered the life of Hannah Bender.
The event was organized by close friend Jacob Smeltzer who helped to spread the word of Bender’s disappearance on social media. Soon the phrase ‘Justice for Hannah’ began to pop up on local Facebook pages.
“It was necessary for her memory,” he told The Nugget. “And really for her family to see that she was loved.”
That much was evident as the group stood in a circle and Smeltzer read aloud from a letter he wrote for his friend.
“When I heard the news of this tragedy, my heart broke. I didn’t want to believe it,” he said. “But as days went on and evidence came to light, I had to come to terms with it. Although you may be gone, you’ll never be forgotten. You’ll always hold a special place in my heart.”
Bender’s mother, Carol Gilreath, stood nearby while she was embraced by family members.
“She was my rock,” she told the crowd. “For everything in life, she’s been there. I can’t imagine going through the rest of my life without seeing her again. It’s not fair.”