Detectives determined Vanessa Pham visited a business in the Fairfax Plaza shopping center in the 2900 block of Gallows Road around 3 p.m. on Sunday, June 27, Fairfax County Police announced today. She did not appear to be in distress at that time, but her murderer remains at large.
What should have been the day Aaron Apsley of Ohio flew in to reunite with his girlfriend, Vanessa Pham of Falls Church, was instead the day he joined hundreds of her friends and family to mourn Pham’s murder at a candlelit vigil Tuesday night outside James Madison High School in Vienna.
Fairfax County police responded to the area of Arlington Boulevard and Williams Drive for report of a vehicle crash around 3:34 p.m. last Sunday. It was there that 19-year-old Pham was found dead inside her 2008, two-door, white Toyota Scion, which had plummeted into a ditch.
But she appeared to have trauma to the upper body which was “completely inconsistent with the mechanism of the accident,” said Fairfax County Police spokesman, Bud Walker. An autopsy concluded Monday Pham had been murdered.
Though the ongoing investigation prohibited Walker from disclosing where in the vehicle Pham’s body was discovered, he said, “there’s no reason to believe she wasn’t driving.”
“All theories are on the table,” he added. There remain no suspects as of yesterday.
Apsley met Pham at the Savannah College of Art and Design, where the two had finished their freshman years this spring. It was on the last day of that semester, before they parted ways for summer, that the two made their relationship official.
It was also the last day Apsley saw Pham alive.
“With tears in our eyes, we had a bittersweet goodbye while we laughed at our bad timing,” Apsley read aloud from a sheet of paper at Tuesday night’s vigil. He and Pham, who Apsley said taught him “how to love and be loved,” had exchanged calls and texts in their time apart. Those communications wore his “cheeks sore from my constant smile,” he said.
Last Sunday, Walker said the driving passerby who called the police about the crash didn’t stop. Firefighters and police were the first on the scene, and it’s unknown whether the tip came from a person who saw the crash happen.
“All I know is that her car ran off the side of road and ended up on its side,” he added, though other news outlets reported the tip came from someone witnessing Pham’s car going against one-way traffic on an access road before hopping a curb.
Walker could not verify this information, but said detectives are now working to recreate Pham’s last day to get clues about what happened the moments leading up to the crash. A flier released by police yesterday reported she may have traveled along Route 50 or Route 29, between the areas of Nutley Street and Gallows Road prior to the incident.
Pham updated her Facebook status from a mobile device about 20 minutes before she was found dead, announcing she’d secured a position working as a nanny at 3:09 p.m. last Sunday.
Friend and vigil participant, Reagan O’Brien, spent that Sunday with Pham.
“All I can remember is her waving goodbye and getting in her car. I thought I was going to see her again in a couple of hours, but I’m just so happy that the last time I got to see her face she was rocking her big sunglasses and smiling,” O’Brien said.
Pham was a 2009 graduate of Madison High. Fellow ’09 grad, Colleen Griffin, said she still can’t “believe someone murdered one of my best friends.”
“When at first we thought it was a car crash and then [police] said it was homicide. My mind was shocked that, in the little town of Vienna, Vanessa Pham got murdered,” Griffin went on to say.
Former friends and classmates of Pham who planned the Tuesday night vigil did so through the Vanessa Pham Memorial Facebook page they created Monday morning. It’s already attracted over 1,500 members. Online comments called Pham’s enthusiasm “contagious” and others recalled school-day memories.
“I still can’t believe this is real. I feel like it was just yesterday sitting in gym singing with you,” wrote Madison High alumna, Jocelyn Jordan Durham.
Donation boxes to help ease funeral costs for Pham’s family were set out at Tuesday’s vigil. Her cousin, Tracy To, is in town from New York handling the arrangements.
“We are trying to give her a proper burial and we are not in the best financial situation,” wrote Toy, when reached out to over e-mail. She added that a fundraiser is being planned but a date has not been set.
The family is requesting money and check donations to be mailed to: Navy Federal Credit Union, Vanessa Pham Memorial Fund, PO Box 3100, Merrifield, VA 22119-3100.
Fairfax County Police is urging anyone with information to contact Detective Robert Bond, CIB-Homicide at 703-246-4057, Fairfax County Police at 703-691-2131 or Crime Solvers at 1-866-411-TIPS.
Pham’s death marks the eighth homicide in Fairfax County this year.
For a full gallery of Tuesday night’s vigil, click here.
Updates on the Case:
2: 15 p.m. Wednesday, July 7 – See Fairfax County Police Release Video of F.C. Homicide Victim.
11:15 a.m. Wednesday, July 7 – Detectives announced this morning they have a video of Vanessa Pham’s car in the Fairfax Plaza shopping center from a short time before police responded to the crash on Arlington Boulevard on Sunday, June 27. Fairfax County Police Officer Don Gotthardt said it should be released within a couple of hours. Stay tuned to this report and www.fcnp.com for the footage.
11: 43 a.m. Monday, July 5 – Pham’s official obituary released by The Washington Post.
11:10 p.m. Friday, July 2 – ABC 7 News reports the business Pham visited shortly before her murder was JD Nail Salon at 2978 Gallows Road in Falls Church.
11 p.m. Friday, July 2 – Pham’s viewing will be held Tuesday, July 6 from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. at National Memorial Park King David Memorial Garden in Falls Church. Funeral services will take place Wednesday, July 7 at 10:30 a.m. at Vienna Presbytertian Church. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Vanessa Pham Memorial Fund.
4:43 p.m. Friday, July 2 – This map depicts the approximate 0.3-mile distance between the location where Pham was last seen alive “under no distress” (A: Fairfax Plaza in the 2900 block of Gallows Road in Falls Church) at 3 p.m. the day she was murdered and the site of the crash where police discovered her body around 3:30 p.m. (B: near the intersection of Williams Drive and Arlington Boulevard). What happened during the 30-minute time lapse between these two locations is still unknown, though Pham updated her Facebook status from a mobile device at 3:09 p.m.
3 p.m. Friday, July 2 – Fairfax County spokesperson Don Gotthardt said he “understands there are homeless communities” around the site of the crash. “The homicide detectives working on the case are well aware and are looking into that,” Gotthardt added.
2:30 p.m. Friday, July 2 – Fairfax County Police announced today that detectives determined Vanessa Pham visited a business in the Fairfax Plaza shopping center in the 2900 block of Gallows Road around 3 p.m. on Sunday, June 27. She did not appear to be in distress at that time. Also today, members of the Fairfax County Police Department’s Search and Rescue Team conducted an extensive search of the crash site and surrounding area. They were looking for any potential evidence related to this homicide. Police continue to ask for the public’s assistance in providing any information that may lead to the identification and arrest of the suspect.
1:30 p.m. Friday, July 2 – Members of the Vanessa Pham Memorial Fund Facebook page reveal that Pham had changed her Facebook status from a mobile device the day she died around 20 minutes before she was found dead. At 3:09 p.m. on Sunday, June 27, Pham wrote “Call me Fran Drescher, I’m a nanny!”
1:28 p.m. Friday, July 2 – Vienna Inn restaurant announces it will donate 20% of its sales made on Monday, July 5 to the Vanessa Pham Memorial Fund.