ASHEVILLE -- Canton, NC -- A 29-year-old women from Florida working at the Pisgah Inn since May, was killed on a trail near the inn. Below is the PRESS RELEASE from the Department of Justice U.S. Attorney's Office.



U.S. Attorneys » Western District of North Carolina » News
Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Western District of North Carolina


Thursday, July 26, 2018
Federal Complaint Charges Buncombe County Man With Second Degree Murder
ASHEVILLE, N.C. – A federal criminal complaint was filed today charging Derek Shawn Pendergraft, 20, of Asheville, N.C., with second degree murder, announced Andrew Murray, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina.

U.S. Attorney Murray is joined in making today’s announcement by John A. Strong, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Charlotte Division; Neal D. Labrie, Chief Ranger of the Blue Ridge Parkway; and Robert Schurmeier, Director of the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (SBI).

According to allegations in the filed criminal complaint, on the evening of July 24, 2018, Pendergraft, an employee of the Pisgah Inn on the Blue Ridge Parkway, reported that a co-worker, identified in the complaint as “S.E.,” was missing. The complaint alleges that, when initially interviewed by investigators, Pendergraft stated that he and S.E. both got off work shortly after four p.m. 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, in the Western District of North Carolina.

The complaint alleges that, on the evening of July 25, 2018, the manager of the Pisgah Inn contacted law enforcement and advised that Pendergraft was in her office and had confessed to killing S.E. Law enforcement 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.

A complaint is merely an allegation and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt in a court of law.

In making today’s announcement, U.S. Attorney 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.


A Go Fund Me page has been setup for donations to help with funeral expenses:


Sara Ellis was horrifically murdered in the Blue Ridge Mountains at her place of employment and residence at Pisgah Inn on Tuesday July 24th, 2018.

Sara was a kind and loving person who will be greatly missed by everyone she’s met. She had a wonderful soul that loved people and animals and especially her nephews. She was spirited and adventurous. Sara always had a new idea for a new business venture. Her life was ended too soon at just 29 years old as she has gone to meet her mother, Jamie, in heaven.

To Donate: Gofundme


I have started this GoFundMe for the family of Sara to help in the costs of her funeral and burial arrangements. Thank you in advance for any contribution.

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