Missing teacher Bianca Tanner’s boyfriend charged after body found

dperlmutt@charlotteobserver.com edepompei@charlotteobserver.com slyttle@charlotteobserver.comJuly 3, 2014 

Hours after a body believed to be missing teacher Bianca Tanner was found in southwest Charlotte on Thursday, police charged Tanner’s boyfriend with first-degree murder.

Angelo Grayson Smith Jr. was released on $20,000 bond Wednesday night on a misdemeanor charge. But after the body was found in heavy woods off Shopton Road West near Westinghouse Boulevard, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police arrested him without resistance a second time about 4:30 a.m. Thursday.

They later charged him with murdering Tanner.

Police wouldn’t say whether Smith, 30, had confessed. But as he was taken to the Mecklenburg County Jail on Thursday, he told reporters “I’m sorry” when asked what he’d say to Tanner’s family.

The body was taken to the N.C. Medical Examiner’s Office for identification. None had come by late Thursday.

At a predawn news conference Thursday, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Chief Rodney Monroe said “a cooperating witness” led investigators to search early Thursday in the 10400 block of Calico Crossing Lane, a sparsely developed road that connects Shopton West to Westinghouse.

The case has captivated the region – and received national attention – since Tanner, 31, a second-grade teacher from Greensboro, was reported missing by Smith on June 8 in Charlotte. That was 10 days after she moved to Charlotte with her 3-year-old son, Jarrod.

Initially, police treated the matter as a missing-person case but quickly upgraded it to a homicide.

Police said in a search warrant that Jarrod told investigators Smith had struck Tanner with a belt and “hurt Mommy in the face.”

Smith told police the two had argued and Tanner left the apartment on Druid Circle in north Charlotte, about 18 miles north of where the body was found Thursday.

After filing a missing-person report, Smith called Tanner’s ex-husband, Jeremy Tanner, and told him he needed to get their son.

The boy, friends and relatives say, is safe with Tanner’s family.

Smith’s history of charges

After interviewing Jarrod, police charged Smith with contributing to the delinquency of a minor and he was arrested last week in Chicago. Kenneth Snow, Smith’s Charlotte attorney, said Smith had gone to Chicago to stay with relatives because he had received threats in Charlotte.

Smith spent last weekend in the Cook County (Ill.) Jail and was extradited to Charlotte late Monday.

A judge initially set bail at $100,000. But during a hearing Wednesday, Snow convinced a judge to reduce the bond to $20,000, because the delinquency charge was a misdemeanor.

He was out for just a few hours when police arrested him again on the murder charge at the couple’s apartment.

Smith has a previous record. Court records show that in 2004 he was charged with simple assault and burning a schoolhouse. Seven years later, he was charged with assault on a woman. All charges were dismissed.

Yet in 2011, a former wife filed a restraining order against Smith after he caused her “extreme emotional distress and bodily harm.” So had a former girlfriend four years earlier. She told authorities that Smith became angry when he spilled juice on the carpet and she refused to clean it up. She said he pulled her from a pool by her hair, dragged her onto cement and threw her over a gate.

Snow didn’t return a call from the Observer.

Tanner ambitious, caring

Tanner grew up in Durham. She taught for 10 years in Greensboro, first at Madison Elementary and then Reedy Fork Elementary in northern Greensboro, said Sandra Carelock, a close friend who taught second grade with Tanner.

She was a voracious reader, ambitious and funny, friends say. “She was a young lady full of life,” said friend Mario Black of Charlotte. “She’d go the extra mile for anybody – even strangers.”

As a child, Tanner knew she wanted to be a teacher, older sister Cerise Richardson said.

“She really had a passion for it,” Richardson said. “We were eating at Chick-fil-A and one of her old students who is now in high school ran up and gave her the biggest hug and told her … how she was the best teacher she’d ever had.”

Tanner had earned a master’s degree in education and was pursuing her doctorate in education administration when she moved to Charlotte.

She and Jeremy Tanner were in divorce proceedings when in early November Bianca Tanner and Smith met at homecoming weekend at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, friends say.

They began dating in January, Carelock said. “She was all excited after the Christmas break when she started dating (Smith),” she said.

Her divorce final in April, she and her son moved to Charlotte on May 29. “She was looking for change, new opportunities in a more metropolitan area,” Richardson said.

Tanner was hoping to land a job as a teacher at West Charlotte High School, as part of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ Project LIFT program.

Richardson, Carelock and others said they had no reason to be concerned for Tanner’s safety after the move.

The couple were new to their bottom-floor apartment on Druid Circle, about a mile north of uptown, when Smith reported Tanner missing.

At a prayer vigil Wednesday night, more than 100 people prayed that Tanner would be returned, Black said.

“She had a good heart – this is all just so senseless.” Staff writer Mark Washburn contributed.

Perlmutt: 704-358-5061

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