MOUNT PLEASANT — Investigators will again meet this morning in the Halfway Creek area to plan the next steps in the Dara Watson case.
A cellphone that belonged to Watson was found Thursday by divers searching small ponds near where the missing woman and her former fiance lived.
Mount Pleasant Police Capt. Stan Gragg said the search and investigation continue today from a command center at Halfway Creek.
"Everyone remains optimistic," he said.
Investigators think the cell phone was used Feb. 8 by David Hedrick to mislead the woman's family and employer about her safety and whereabouts. Text messages sent from the phone declared that the woman was "fine," police have said.
Hedrick shot himself to death Feb. 10 in the North Creek Drive home the couple had lived in. Watson, who reportedly did not want to proceed with the couple's planned wedding, was last seen Feb. 6. Her burning sport utility vehicle was found Feb. 7 in the Francis Marion National Forest.
Mount Pleasant police Capt. Stan Gragg said Thursday night that the recovered phone is being processed by a police team. What evidence the phone might produce, Gragg said he can't speculate.
The search for Watson will continue today, Gragg said.
"We will continue to follow leads that come in and search areas where Dara might be located," he said.
Teams that included Mount Pleasant police and Charleston County Sheriff's Office deputies have searched almost daily in the forest without finding Watson. Police said information provided by witnesses told them that Hedrick was seen leaving the forest with a shovel and hitching a ride to the North Creek Drive home.
A shovel was found by search teams near where the SUV burned, police said.
Gragg said the search of the ponds was something that investigators had not been able to do earlier. He was not sure if there would be more diving in the RiverTowne subdivision today.
The sheriff's Underwater Recovery Team found the phone while searching five small ponds. The team also looked at some marsh and creek banks.
In the ponds, five men in scuba gear walked shoulder to shoulder in water that came up as far as their chests. Other than the phone, the only finds apparently were an old bicycle and an alligator almost 6 feet long.
The gator was removed from a pond and taken away by state Department of Natural Resources officers, Gragg said.
At least one pond that divers searched had a sign posted nearby warning that gators might be present.
Sheriff's Maj. Jim Brady said the search in the forest is expected to resume today, possibly in the Halfway Creek area.
Reporters and photographers watched while divers worked, and so did some neighborhood residents.
Ingrid Ray of North Creek Drive watched from her backyard and said she didn't know Watson or Hedrick, but had seen them riding the streets in their golf cart.
When she heard Watson was missing and Hedrick had shot himself, "It made everyone uneasy, because this is such a quiet street," she said.