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Prosecutors say co-worker confessed to murder on Parkway trail

Prosecutors filed federal murder charges Thursday against a 20-year-old Asheville man in the death of a female Pisgah Inn coworker on a trail near the Blue Ridge Parkway.


Derek Shawn Pendergraft is charged with second-degree murder, Andrew Murray, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina, announced.
According to allegations in the criminal complaint, Pendergraft, an employee of the Pisgah Inn, reported that a co-worker, identified in the complaint as “S.E.,” was missing. The complaint alleges that, when initially interviewed by investigators, Pendergraft said that he and S.E. both got off work shortly after 4 p.m. Tuesday and decided to go for a hike on an unnamed trail near the employee housing area of the Pisgah Inn. Pendergraft stated that shortly after starting their hike it began to rain and S.E. decided to return to the housing area while he continued to hike. According to the complaint, Pendergraft stated that on his way back, upon reaching the point where he last saw S.E., Pendergraft saw her umbrella and hat lying on the ground. Pendergraft stated that he immediately began to search for S.E. and informed the management staff at the Pisgah Inn that she was missing. Rangers and first responders searched the area and located S.E.’s body lying off an embankment, near a trail, within the boundary of the Blue Ridge Parkway, in Transylvania County.
On Wednesday night the manager of the Pisgah Inn contacted law enforcement and advised that Pendergraft was in her office and had confessed to killing S.E., prosecutors say. Law officers arrived at Pisgah Inn, interviewed Pendergraft and arrested him shortly thereafter in connection with S.E.’s murder. Pendergraft is currently in custody. The charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.

In making the announcement, Murray thanked the National Park Service, the FBI, the SBI, the Transylvania County Sheriff's Office, the Haywood County Sheriff's Office, and the Cruso Fire Department for their respective work and assistance in this case. The prosecution is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Don Gast, of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Asheville.