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Police Say A "Serial Killer" Carnival Worker Killed Two Women And A Teen Girl In Virginia

James Michael Wright allegedly claimed that the shootings were accidental, but the local sheriff said "we find that hard to believe."

Posted on May 14, 2019, at 8:50 p.m. ET

Facebook, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

Authorities in Virginia say a traveling carnival worker confessed to killing two women and a teenage girl over the span of 18 days.

James Michael Wright, 23, admitted to fatally shooting Elizabeth Vanmeter, 22, and Athina Hopson, 25, both of Tennessee, and 17-year-old Joslyn Alsup of Georgia, Washington County Sheriff Fred Newman said in a press conference Monday.

Wright told officers all three women were accidentally shot, but "we find that hard to believe based on the information that we have," Newman added, referring to him as a serial killer.

Wright has been charged with three counts of capital murder, three counts of using a firearm in committing a murder, and three counts of concealment of a dead body. According to officials, he allegedly met the three victims through his job as a subcontractor for the James H. Drew Exposition, a carnival that travels up and down the East Coast. After bringing them through as-yet unknown means to his home in Mendota, Virginia, he allegedly killed them. Two bodies were found on the property; the third has yet to be recovered.

Newman said officers and the FBI are working with the company to determine all of the locations where the carnival recently stopped to see if there are any missing persons in those areas who could possibly be connected to Wright.

Washington County Sheriff's Office

Wright was initially approached by investigators in relation to the disappearance of Hopson, Newman said, adding that his office had been contacted by Johnson City police to set up an interview "approximately two weeks ago." The department had reportedly been tipped off that Hopson was seen in Wright's presence.

Following that interview, police obtained a search warrant for Wright's truck, which had been impounded following a crash in March. Inside, they found Hopson's cellphone and used that discovery to obtain a second warrant for his house and the surrounding property.

In an interview on May 9, Newman said, Wright confessed to killing all three women. Police executed the search warrant on Wright's property on May 10, and found Vanmeter's body in a shallow grave and Alsup's under a pile of logs.

Wright reportedly told police he accidentally shot and killed Vanmeter during an argument on Feb. 28.

Seventeen-year-old Alsup, the daughter of another carnival worker Wright had met at work, was shot to death on March 9. Citing law enforcement, local news station WCYB reported that Wright told police he accidentally shot her because he mistook her for an animal in the woods.

Then on March 17, Hopson was killed after Wright accidentally tripped and shot her twice in the head, he told police. He claimed that he was taking her body to the hospital when it fell out the back of his truck and rolled down an embankment. It was there that Wright put the body in the Holston River, Newman said. It has yet to be found.

Newman said Wright used a .22-caliber rifle in all of the killings. The gun was recovered from his grandfather's property, also in Mendota, Virginia.

Washington County Commonwealth’s Attorney Josh Cumbow told reporters Monday that the case against Wright was in its early stages, but that the death penalty "is definitely on the table."

Wright is being held without bail in the Southwest Virginia Regional Jail.

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