Federal Grand Jury indicts man in death of Pisgah Inn employee

Derek Shawn Pendergraft, 20, of Asheville, is charged with second-degree murder. (Photo credit: Buncombe County Detention Center)

New information on the murder of a Pisgah Inn employee.

The man who federal officials say confessed to killing her has been formally charged with second-degree murder in federal court. A federal grand jury indicted Derek Shawn Pendergraft, 20, of Asheville, this week.

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 coworker, Sara Ellis, was missing.

The complaint alleges that, when initially interviewed by investigators, Pendergraft stated that he and Sara 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 said that shortly after starting their hike it began to rain and Sara decided to return to the housing area while he continued to hike.

According to the complaint, Pendergraft said that on his way back, upon reaching the point where he last saw Sara, Pendergraft saw her umbrella and hat lying on the ground.

Pendergraft stated that he immediately began to search for Sara and informed the management staff at the Pisgah Inn that she was missing.

Rangers and first responders searched the area and located Sara's body lying off an embankment, near a trail, within the boundary of the Blue Ridge Parkway, in Transylvania County.

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 Sara.

Law enforcement arrived at Pisgah Inn, interviewed Pendergraft, and arrested him shortly thereafter in connection with Sara.’s murder.

Pendergraft is set to be arraigned next week. The charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.

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