Dateline   |  July 06, 2013

Shattered, Part 1

Justine Abshire, kindergarten teacher and newlywed, was found dead on a rural Virginia road an apparent victim of a hit and run, but little about the accident scene made sense.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> the yellow buses pulled up. as the grade schoolers headed for their classroom the principal inside was calling an unexpected meeting of the teachers inside their office. it was about the pretty young kindergartner teacher.

>> there's no easy way to tell you this. and then he said, justine was killed last night. she was hit by a hit and run . and there was a silence.

>> fellow teacher pat 'em mondays could not believe what she was hearing about her friend, the newly wed who taught one door away. kathleen wittily, another fellow teacher, was devastated.

>> i was just shocked. just in disbelief that she was gone. she was my best friend . i mean, she was my kindred spirit . we were the same person.

>> 27-year-old justine had married her long time boyfriend eric just that spring. she loved being a teacher and by all accounts the little kids in her classroom loved her back.

>> she was a very darling teacher. she's the kind of teacher that you would want for your own child.

>> but on that november morning, the stunned teachers had few details. it seemed justine had been out driving after mid night and her car had broken down. she was apparently struck by a vehicle as she walked down a dark country road in the county where she and her husband lived north of charlottesville.

>> i hear a kick at the door.

>> amber lamb was up late at her grandmothers.

>> a stranger, a man was asking her to call 911.

>> orange county 911. where is your emergency?

>> this man came up to the door and said his wife was hit by a car.

>> amber followed the man, eric , in to the chill night. she watched as he fell to the black top and embraced the body of the young woman sprawled there.

>> he was laying over top of her.

>> the five-month marriage of eric and justine ended with that embrace. the husband weeping, his bride clearly gone. they barely had time to make a scratch on a life together. they had a modest little house . he was working on getting a construction business going while she taught at the grade school . they told friends they were looking forward to taking a delayed honeymoon over the upcoming holidays but the cruise like everything else for them was now ever going to happen. it was just after 2:00 in the morning when virginia state trooper ben hobbs was awakened at his home.

>> i telephone call saying we have a motorvehicle crash.

>> he raced to the scene.

>> i'm talking to the deputy. where's my vehicle at that struck the person that's laying in the road? the deputy looks at me and says, well, i guess your dispatch didn't tell you. this is probably going to be a hit and run . we don't have a vehicle.

>> for you as the investigator, this is a long night ahead of you? a.

>> very long night.

>> a victim and no vehicle.

>> exactly. i look at the scene, what i have, what i don't have.

>> one of the first things he saw was the devastated husband.

>> he was knelt down beside justine crying. he was very, very distraught, up set. seemed very concerned about his wife laying in the road.

>> it was up to trooper hobbs to gather what he could at the scene to help identify the driver who struck and killed this young woman and kept on going. it wasn't going to be easy.

>> nobody tried to stop. you know, if they saw this lady at the last minute, why didn't they slam on the brakes?

>> as the trooper's emergency flashers stabbed at the darkness, a phone was ringing at a home in chattanooga, tennessee.

>> it's just like your whole world just caves in on you. it's like a black hole .

>> justine 's dad steven schwartz and mom heidi were getting one of those awful calls in the middle of the night . a voice telling them their daughter was lying dead on a back country road in virginia.

>> it's completely devastating. worst thing that you can imagine. it's kind of thing parents dread.

>> i remember him putting the phone down and saying it's justine , she's dead. just -- you know, there's no way to describe that feeling.

>> steven and heidi called their daughter lauren living in philadelphia. she was younger than justine by two years. cyst earls who'd always been inseparable.

>> i remember saying no, no, no over and over . i turned in to a puddle on the floor. you can't stand. you get these pangs in your gut. and you can't -- you can't breathe.

>> in the predawn hours, the family made a plan to meet at the airport in charlottesville.

>> the fact that she is dead, of course, seems impossible but at that moment, you think this can't make sense.

>> back at what was now a crime scene in virginia trooper hobbs was trying to figure out the sequence of events of how this woman came to be dead in the road. the husband told the trooper that after his wife called him to tell him she was broken down, he hopped on the motorcycle to come help her.

>> coming down the road, comes up on her, stops, got out. cradled her in his arms.

>> justine 's car, a mustang, discovered parked by the side of the road about a distance of two football fields from where her body was found.

>> a wooded area. unlit highway. back road in the middle of nowhere .

>> the investigators wondered why she'd leave the safety of the car when help was on the way.

>> . she left behind her purse?

>> purse.

>> nice, warm coat.

>> nice, warm coat.

>> flashlight?

>> flash flight was in the glove box . had fresh batteries still in it.

>> had a routine auto malfunction turned suddenly crazy? was justine in her last moments being pursued, fleeing an attacker? trooper hobbs ' gut told him things were not adding up.

>> the scene was telling me something's not right.

>> a scene, a set of lies it would take years to untangle. the mystery of the puzzling death had only just begun.