Two weeks after the disappearance of a 19-year-old Middle Georgia State College student, authorities charged a Hawkinsville teenager with his murder.
Jmaal Malik Keyes, of Austell, just west of Atlanta, was last seen about 10:50 a.m. April 25. He reportedly left campus to go to a local convenience store.
Now authorities believe the 17-year-old who may have given him a ride also killed him.
Late Thursday, police charged Robert Kane Rolison, 17, with Keyes’ murder.
MGSC Campus Police Chief Shawn Douglas said Friday that Keyes, a freshman who was reported missing by his mother April 29, may have gotten a ride to a convenience store from Rolison.
“That was the story we were told, it just hasn’t been confirmed with eyewitnesses,” Douglas said.
Douglas declined to say whether Rolison, who is dual-enrolled at Hawkinsville High School and MGSC, or another witness told them that Rolison took Keyes to the convenience store.
“(Keyes) was with (Rolison) that day, but we can’t confirm that (Keyes) went to a convenience store,” Douglas said Friday.
Authorities have been quiet about the case against Rolison, who is being held at the Bleckley County Law Enforcement Center, and details have been scant.
Douglas said he cannot release any more information on why police believe Rolison murdered Keyes because the investigation is ongoing.
Douglas would not elaborate on how the two students knew each other. “The only relationship we can confirm at this time is they ... attended school together and they did do some socializing in some of the common area,” Douglas said.
Asked whether Rolison admitted to the murder, Douglas said, “I can’t disclose that at this time.”
Douglas said the convenience store owners could not confirm if they’d seen Keyes on April 25 or the day before.
Douglas said more information might be released Saturday.
“We have sufficient evidence at this time as to whether the crime was committed,” he said.
Searching for Keyes’ body
The search for Keyes’ body has focused on Bleckley and Pulaski counties.
Todd Lowery, special agent in charge at the Eastman office of the GBI, which is leading the investigation, said officials received information “that indicated we needed to be looking in those two counties.”
He called the efforts to find Keyes’ body “a broad search.”
Lowery said the state Department of Natural Resources has been assisting in the search from the ground, which included the use of boats on the Ocmulgee River. The Georgia State Patrol assisted with searches from the air, Lowery added.
While the search has been unsuccessful so far, Lowery said efforts would continue until “we feel like there’s nothing else to search.”
The search on the Ocmulgee was called off Friday afternoon. Authorities were searching areas of Bleckley and Pulaski counties Friday evening, GBI Inspector Sherry Lang said, according to the Associated Press.
Portrait of suspect begins to emerge
Students from Hawkinsville High described Rolison as an outgoing, smart student who loved to skateboard and draw.
“He likes to have a good time,” said Jessica Neal, 17. “He’ll make you laugh.”
Neal said she was in the 4-H club with Rolison, who was in Advanced Placement classes when he attended the high school full time.
Principal Rosemary Wright said Rolison was enrolled at MGSC full time this school year as a part of the Georgia Academy of Aviation, Mathematics, Engineering and Science program.
GAMES “is designed so that scholastic students can earn both a high school diploma, from their home high school, and an associate degree from Middle Georgia State College simultaneously,” according to the college website.
Wright declined to comment further.
Rolison also was a 2011-2012 member of the Georgia School Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council that met to discuss education policy
Neal and friends Jennifer Johnson, 18, and Courtney Taylor, 16, said they were surprised by news Rolison had been charged with murder.
“I don’t believe it,” Johnson said. “I don’t think he would do that.”
Rolison lists his age as 19 on the social networking site called MeetMe.com.
The site states it is home to more than 90 million people who meet, play games and have fun.
In his thumbnail photograph, Rolison appears to be bare chested and is wearing what looks like some sort of necklace.
The last post associated with his name shows a smiley face icon, with eyes closed and the word “relaxed” next to it.
On Facebook, Rolison states he’s single, interested in women and his religious views are agnostic, which is defined as a person who claims neither faith, nor disbelief in God, one who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God, or of anything beyond material phenomena.
In photos taken in March and posted on his Facebook page, Rolison apparently attended a medieval festival in west Georgia called the Ides of March VII.
The pictures show him and others wearing costumes and holding shields and various types of homemade weapons used in battle games.
Friday is the last day students have to move off campus after the spring semester. Few students remained after finals wrapped up Tuesday. Keyes’ belongings remain in his room, MGSC police’s Douglas said.
The college’s graduation ceremonies also were Friday.
“We start today on a solemn note,” interim MGSC President John Black said to a packed Macon Coliseum at graduation.
In a news release late Thursday, Black said the college is “absolutely devastated by this news. There just are no words to describe how deeply hurt we are and how terrible we feel for Jmaal’s family.”
Black said he wanted to express “heartfelt condolences to everyone in his family, and everyone who knew Jmaal.”
Destiny World Church, whose members organized a search for Keyes in Cochran earlier this week, issued a statement saying members were “saddened” to learn of the news about Keyes.
“Destiny World Church has been active in the search for Jmaal for the last several days and we are disheartened by the news that another student has been arrested on murder charges,” according to the statement.
Wilbur Purvis, a pastor from Keyes’ church in Austell, said the teen had been very active at Destiny World Church. At a news conference Friday, Purvis said Keyes’ older brother graduated from college this week with a criminal justice degree and the teen wanted to follow in his footsteps. Keyes’ mother is relying on her faith for guidance after losing her son, Purvis said. “She was very adamant when she spoke to her children about not being bitter, not being angry, accepting this as something that has occurred and believing that her faith in God will get her through,” he said.
Telegraph writers Liz Fabian, Joe Kovac Jr. and Jenna Mink and information from the Associated Press contributed to this report.