Watson search called off after search crews discover body

This March 2010 photo from her Facebook page show Dara Watson at Charleston Fashion Week.

A week of searching for 30-year-old Dara Watson ended Friday when crews scouring the Francis Marion National Forest discovered a body.

Mount Pleasant Police Chief Harry Sewell announced the recovery around 1:30 p.m. Friday but said that the Charleston County Coroner's Office still must identify the person found. Positive ID of the body could take several days, he added.

"We have suspended our search today," Sewell said. He declined to take any questions after the announcement but did add, "We continue to pray for the family."

The body was found off Halfway Creek Road, among tall pines and about 150 yards from where Watson's sport utility vehicle was found badly burned on Feb. 7. Sewell said details of Friday's discovery would not be released immediately.

Watson's former fiance, 34-year-old David Hedrick, fatally shot himself in the head Feb. 10 in the North Creek Drive home the couple shared. Watson reportedly had called off the wedding they had planned.

Watson was last reported seen alive Feb. 6, when she left her mother's residence in Boone, N.C., heading back to Mount Pleasant. Text messages sent from her phone on Feb. 8 stated everything was fine, but authorities said later they believe Hedrick sent those messages to deceive Watson's family and employer.

Watson's cell phone was found Thursday, in one of several small pounds near the North Creek Drive home.

Police said witnesses told them of seeing Hedrick emerge from the forest carrying a shovel, and hitching a ride home days before the search for Watson began.

More than 80 volunteers from 10 law enforcement and volunteer rescue squads joined in the searches for Watson. Authorities focused on a two-mile radius area off Halfway Creek Road near Guerins Bridge Road.

A Red Cross van and volunteers provided food and water to search crews. Portable toilets were set up beside the road.

Search volunteers carried sticks to sift through leaves and debris in the woods Friday. Charleston County sheriff's Maj. Jim Brady said those searching felt for anything that gave resistance along the ground.

The search team also used dogs and divers, even aerial surveillance over the past several days, Brady said. On Friday they brought out a forensics trailer, ready to collect and store any evidence they found.

Before and after the body was found, motorists on Halfway Creek Road slowed or stopped Friday to ask reporters and photographers what was the latest in the search. When told a body had been found, some motorists expressed sorrow but said that at least some closure may now come.

Kellie Gandy, a Guerins Bridge Road resident, said that although the forest is sparsely populated, a lot of activity takes place. "All kinds of people come out here to hide and to do whatever they want to," she said. She said vehicles are burned in the forest often, and speculated the burns are linked to insurance frauds and "chop shop" parts stripping operations.

According to their friends, Watson and Hedrick began dating in April 2008 and became engaged last month.

Hedrick served as owner and CEO of Daniel Island-based bail bond company Palmetto Surety Corp., and Watson worked as an accountant for Verge Solutions in Mount Pleasant.

Reach Allyson Bird at 937-5594 or on Twitter @allysonjbird. Reach Edward C. Fennell at 937-5560 or on Twitter @EdwardFennell43.