LAFAYETTE, La. — A Louisiana police chief said Friday that a burned truck found in Texas was the key to the arrest of a 33-year-old registered sex offender in the disappearance of college student Michaela "Mickey" Shunick.
Brandon Scott Lavergne was booked Thursday with first-degree murder and aggravated kidnapping, authorities said.
Shunick, a student at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, was last seen riding away from a friend's house on a bicycle in the early hours of May 19, days before her 22nd birthday.
Her friends wept openly at a police news conference on Friday, comforted by search party members and community supporters who'd been working to locate the student for almost two months.
Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft provided few details about the investigation. He said no body has been recovered. He would not detail any evidence that led investigators to certainty that Shunick is dead.
He cautioned that while an arrest has been made, much more investigation is ahead. "Lavergne is believed to be responsible for the disappearance of Mickey Shunick," Craft said.
Craft said surveillance video that picked up Shunick shortly after she left a friend's house on May 19 led them to a white Chevrolet pickup that was seen in the same area. Police put out a community appeal seeking to identify the vehicle and its driver, but no one came forward.
A break in the case came June 14, Craft said, when a tip came into a phone hotline set up after the student's disappearance. Craft would not go into detail on how officers were led to a white pickup truck found burned in San Jacinto County, Texas, on May 31. But he said the truck was registered to Lavergne and had been reported stolen in Montgomery County, Texas.
"Based on information and surveillance, detectives were able to positively identify the truck that traveled directly behind Mickey in the video as belonging to Brandon Lavergne," Craft said. "Investigators were also able to place Brandon Lavergne in and around the location of where the bicycle was located."
Craft said Lavergne was arrested Thursday after a state police traffic stop on Interstate 10 on an unrelated warrant. Craft said Lavergne had tampered with his driver's license so that it no longer indicated he is a registered sex offender. Sex offenders in Louisiana are required to have driver's licenses that display a code identifying them as such.
The state's online list of registered sex offenders says Lavergne was convicted of aggravated oral sexual battery in 2000. He was released in 2008.
Craft said Lavergne declined to cooperate with police. He was booked in the Shunick case and was being held without bond on Friday.
"We want the family to know that we will not rest until we can fully know what happened to her. We continue our efforts to locate and bring Mickey home," Craft said.
Craft said her family reported her missing after she didn't return home, missed her brother's high school graduation and failed to answer calls to her cell phone.
Eight days after she vanished, local fisherman reported they had found a bicycle in a remote, swampy area under a highway bridge about 25 miles east of Lafayette in Iberville Parish.
The black Schwinn bicycle was identified as Shunick's. Craft said the damage to the rear tire was consistent with damage associated with being struck by a vehicle.
Police said they sent the bike to a state police crime lab but that Craft said his department hadn't received the results from those tests at the time of Lavergne's arrest.
Craft said Lavergne was an offshore worker but couldn't provide further details about his whereabouts during Shunick's disappearance. Authorities searched his mobile home in nearby St. Landry Parish on Thursday.
The Shunick family did not respond to requests for comment on Friday.