Ever since UVA student Hannah Graham went missing on Sept. 13, Timothy Longo, chief of police in Charlottesville, Virginia, has been at the forefront in press conferences and in leading searches to find the 18-year-old college student. After the recent finding of human remains, Longo described the phone call to Graham’s parents as “difficult.” Across social media, people have observed how personally Longo appears to be taking the case with several comments describing his “emotional speech” at one press conference about the missing UVA student. His time in the spotlight has prompted people to wonder who this man, Tim Longo is.
He is a lawyer and member of the Maryland Bar. Longo holds a bachelor’s degree from Towson University in Maryland and a JD from the University of Baltimore School of Law. While studying to obtain his degrees, he worked for the Baltimore Police Department, starting as a police cadet and taking on several duties over the years, including sergeant, lieutenant, head of the Special Investigation Section and eventually Colonel and Chief of the Technical Services Bureau. He retired from the Baltimore Police Department in 2000 and, after a brief time in the private sector, he was selected to serve as police chief in 2001 to the City of Charlottesville, Virginia, home of UVA.
He is a husband, father and grandfather. Perhaps part of the reason Longo appears to have taken the case of the missing UVA student so personally is that he is a father of four, with two sons and two daughters, one of whom is not much older than Hannah Graham. He and his wife are also grandparents to two grandsons. Longo has described his role as chief of police as part “servant leader,” teacher and guidance counselor and has noted that he must serve as an example, all of which sounds striking similar to often-cited descriptions of parenting.
He has experienced his own personal tragedy. Like Longo, his older brother was successful, working as a therapist and having a family of his own with a wife and son. However, after becoming addicted to drugs, his brother lost everything and was eventually homeless, even begging on the streets. He eventually overcame his addiction, dying five years after getting clean, but seeing what happened to one of his own family members appears to be an integral part of Longo’s compassionate side. He has said when he sees others, he sees their stories. “Everyone’s got one,” he is quoted as saying.
He has not been without criticism. In 2007, when one of his police officers ticketed a man in a wheelchair for jaywalking after the man was struck by police vehicle in a crosswalk, the department and Longo himself came under fire. In particular, Longo sent a memo to the City Council about the incident, indicating there were no witnesses, a fact that was hotly disputed. A lawsuit was eventually filed by the injured man and later settled but not without a flurry of controversy that extended over five years.
The case of UVA student Hannah Graham is now being called a “death investigation.” Tim Longo’s tears of frustration and desperation seem to have not gone unnoticed by all who have viewed the press conferences and followed the case. Longo’s background, family history and family of his own has likely had an impact on his seeming inability to separate himself from his work in the case of the UVA student. Still, that may not be possible for anyone tasked with dealing with this kind of heart-wrenching case.
By Jennifer Fernicola Ronay