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Friends hope for 'miracle' as missing hiker presumed dead

  • Story Highlights
  • Godmother: Family taking latest news "very hard," but is not giving up
  • Warrant: Suspect tried to clean his van with a bleach-and-water solution
  • Investigators find wallet with woman's driver's license and student ID
  • Gary Michael Hilton charged with kidnapping with intent to cause bodily injury
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BLAIRSVILLE, Georgia (CNN) -- The evidence is not good.

IDs believed to belong to missing hiker Meredith Emerson and her blood stained-clothes have been found.

Authorities have even announced that they are scaling back their search for the missing 24-year-old, The Associated Press reported late Sunday.

But family and friends of the University of Georgia graduate continue to hope she will be found, and that she was not hurt by 61-year-old Gary Michael Hilton who was being held in connection with her dissappearance.

He was allegedly the last person to be seen with Emerson as she hiked with her dog in the North Georgia mountains on New Years day.

He has been charged with kidnapping with intent to cause bodily injury, according to a criminal warrant filed Saturday.

"You have to [hope], just to keep going," said Emerson's roommate Julia Karrenbauer. "I know how strong Meredith is. Her spirit and strong-mindedness have comforted us along the way." Video Watch roommate describe ordeal »

But GBI spokesman John Bankhead said police were no longer focusing on rescuing Emerson: "This is a search and recovery effort."

Search volunteers and Emerson's friends who had gathered for the news conference hugged and cried at the news.

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Godmother Peggy Bailey said Emerson's mother, Susan, was praying her daughter could still be found when "the wonderful GBI folks said, 'Is there anything we can do for you?'"

"She said, 'I want a miracle.'"

The family is taking the latest news "very, very hard," but they have not yet given up, Bailey said.

"We are hearing the words and saying yes, we understand, but we still hold out hope. That would be what any parent would do."

The clothes and IDs police found Saturday were in the trash bin of a convenience store next to the grocery store where Emerson's dog was found wandering around in the parking lot Friday about 50 miles from where she disappeared.

"The clothing was found to contain substantial amounts of human blood," the Saturday arrest warrant says.

The clothing is consistent with the type Emerson was believed to wear, the warrant said.

The items found include a black leather wallet that contained Emerson's Georgia driver's license and student ID. GBI agents also recovered a portion of a seat belt with "apparent blood transfer stains," according to the warrant.

Hilton made a phone call from a pay phone at the same convenience store Friday, the warrant also alleges.

Hilton was arrested later Friday at a different convenience store in metro Atlanta. When his 2001 minivan was searched, agents "determined that the rear seat belt had been cut out," according to the warrant.

"Hilton was attempting to vacuum the vehicle and wash portions of it with a bleach and water solution," the warrant says. It also alleges that Hilton attempted to use one of Emerson's credit cards at a Regions Bank branch in Canton, Georgia.

Hilton arrived at the Union County jail dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit late Saturday. He did not make any comments to reporters as he was whisked into the facility.

Seventeen search teams on Saturday combed a 5-mile radius of the mountain, searching for any signs of Emerson. Authorities earlier this week had been searching a 400-square-mile area of the forest.

By late Saturday afternoon, Bankhead said a Superior Court judge in Union County signed an arrest warrant for Hilton. Hilton was taken into custody at about 8 p.m. Friday at a convenience store in suburban Atlanta after police spotted his white van in the parking lot.

DeKalb County police information officer Mekka Parish said police received two 911 calls about 7:40 p.m. saying a man fitting Hilton's description was at a Chevron gas station in northern DeKalb County.

Hours earlier, Ella -- Emerson's black Labrador mix that had been with her as she hiked through the north Georgia mountains -- was found in the parking lot of a Kroger grocery store.


The animal was positively identified through an implanted microchip.

Earlier this week, authorities found two water bottles, a police-style baton, a dog leash and dog treats near the trail where Emerson and Hilton were seen talking. Hilton was known to carry a similar-style baton when he hiked the Appalachian Trail, authorities said. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Marylynn Ryan, Reggie Aqui and Michael Phelan contributed to this report.

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