It began with a survivor who was willing to talk.
By Friday, it had festered into a horrifying revelation for the Augusta area as arrest warrants against a 37-year-old tire inspector painted a grisly picture of ruthless attacks, brutalized bodies and a predator in the area for at least a year.
The story may continue unraveling. Investigators on both sides of the Savannah River are collaborating, hoping to link DNA samples from Reinaldo J. Rivera to still more unsolved homicides and assault cases.
Police have linked the husband and father of two not only to Tuesday's rape and stabbing of an 18-year-old south Augusta woman but also to the killings of Sgt. Marni Glista last month, Tiffaney Wilson in December and Melissa Faye Dingess, who has been missing since July 17, 1999.
Police declined to identify the skeletal remains uncovered Friday by South Carolina investigators along Interstate 20 in Aiken County. However, Mrs. Dingess' name appeared on a warrant issued Friday against Mr. Rivera.
The 17-year-old from Graniteville was last seen using a pay phone with an unidentified woman outside a restaurant on Ascauga Lake Road. She had strawberry-blond hair, and her nickname was Little Bit, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Mr. Rivera told police where to find the body of Mrs. Dingess, according to Aiken County Magistrate Charles "Terry" Carter. An autopsy has been scheduled in Newberry to identify the body.
The judge issued four warrants Friday night naming Mr. Rivera in the Aiken County sexual assaults and slayings.
The warrants say Mr. Rivera "used aggravated force to commit sexual battery" on Mrs. Dingess. According to the court documents, authorities believe Mr. Rivera strangled Mrs. Dingess while raping her.
The warrants also reveal new details about how Mrs. Wilson died Dec. 4. The documents allege that Mr. Rivera tied her hands behind her back and raped her, then "stabbed her in the neck with a knife and strangled her with a rope."
'Real shaken up'
Before moving with his family to a modest neighborhood outside North Augusta, Mr. Rivera - known as Ray - had lived in Columbia and Fayetteville, N.C. He also did a stint in the Navy, according to a co-worker at the Bridgestone/Firestone plant in Aiken County.
He moved to Sudlow Ridge Road about a month ago from Graniteville, where he lived on Bettis Academy Road, less than two miles from the wooded area where Mrs. Wilson's body was discovered last year. A county deed showed he and Tammy Rivera purchased a new home on Sudlow Ridge Road in late August.
Bridgestone/Firestone's human resources department told workers Thursday of the allegations against Mr. Rivera and the connection to other incidents in the area. Employees were "real shaken up," said Robert Hill, 26, a service technician who worked with Mr. Rivera for 2 years.
"Everybody out there was pretty upset," Mr. Hill said. "Some of the girl inspectors up there have been standing right beside him every day. Now a lot of people are thinking if that girl didn't live, then he would have been in there inspecting tires today."
Mr. Rivera is a senior inspector whose job is to check newly built tires in the company's Vinyl Finish Department, Mr. Hill said.
"He always seemed, like, overly nice," Mr. Hill said. "He's the kind of guy who would want to talk to you for a long time, so you'd try to avoid him.
"But I always saw him as harmless."
Capt. Tom Galardi of the Aiken Department of Public Safety said Friday evening that investigators have not talked with Mr. Rivera but are having his DNA tested against samples found in the Jessica Carpenter case.
Ms. Carpenter, a senior at Aiken High School, was found dead about a month ago when her mother returned home. South Carolina police were tight-lipped about the case, but authorities did say her throat had been deeply cut.
The tests likely will be finished the first of next week, Capt. Galardi said.
"It would be easy to say that this guy also is responsible for killing Jessica simply because he is accused of killing these other young girls, but the DNA is our ace in the hole," he said.
Authorities have kept the Carpenter family posted on what has been unfolding across the river all week, Capt. Galardi said.
"But we've told them not to get their hopes up because at this point we don't have anything concrete," he added.
When the case goes to court, Georgia has the right to try Mr. Rivera first, Aiken County 2nd Circuit Solicitor Barbara Morgan said. Some other counties and states also may have charges to bring, she said, so it's not clear when Mr. Rivera will be tried on the South Carolina murder charges.
Police with unsolved cases in several jurisdictions have expressed an interest in questioning him.
"The positive thing about all this is that the recent charges bring resolution to some horrible cases," the solicitor said. "Just think what could have happened if he hadn't lived."
Mr. Rivera apparently was trying to kill himself before deputies found him in a motel room in Clearwater at 4 a.m. Thursday, investigators said. He had checked in five hours earlier under his own name, according to a manager.
In all, he faces charges of murder, rape, aggravated assault and aggravated sodomy in Richmond County and two counts of murder and two counts of criminal sexual conduct in Aiken County.
Late Friday, he was in police custody at Medical College of Georgia Hospital.
Left to die
Richmond County investigators were first to announce they had placed Mr. Rivera on Oakridge Drive on Labor Day, when Fort Gordon Army Sgt. Glista, 21, was assaulted and left to die in her rental home.
Maj. Ken Autry, head of criminal investigations for Richmond County Sheriff's Department, cited "scientific evidence" and "information gathered" as implicating Mr. Rivera.
Maj. Autry was reading from a prepared statement when he made the announcement at a news conference Friday at the Augusta-Richmond County Law Enforcement Center. Questions were referred to District Attorney Danny Craig, who added little to the contents of the release.
He said a composite sketch drawn with the help of Tuesday's victim, an 18-year-old woman who was raped and slashed in her Richmond Gardens home, was used heavily in linking Mr. Rivera to the Glista killing.
Citing concerns of "compromising the investigation," Mr. Craig would not elaborate on the scientific evidence.
Authorities had been looking for Mr. Rivera since Tuesday, when the south Augusta woman was found stabbed in her home. She told investigators how she met a Hispanic man driving a teal-green Honda and how he coaxed her into leading him from a Belvedere Huddle House to her home.
A Seattle native, Sgt. Glista was discovered Sept. 5 after Army officers went to the house looking for her. She was unconscious and barely breathing and never woke up in the four days before she died at Doctors Hospital.
The back door of her brick home reportedly had been forced open. Groceries from a nearby Food Lion were left in the back of her sport utility vehicle, some spoiling in the sticky heat.
Richmond County sheriff's investigators never disclosed specifics about her injuries.
Mrs. Wilson, 17, disappeared, along with her 2-month-old daughter, Kaitlyn, on Dec. 4. Her car was found at the Winn-Dixie parking lot on U.S. Highway 25 in North Augusta. She was taking the baby there to have a Christmas photograph taken between 4 and 5:30 p.m. At about 6:20 p.m., a couple at the Georgia Welcome Center on Interstate 20 found Kaitlyn. Mrs. Wilson's body was found Dec. 28.
While the arrest of Mr. Rivera meant breaks in lingering cases for area police, for residents of Sgt. Glista's neighborhood it meant closure and what could be the end of a terrifying month of questions and uncertainties.
"I just hope it's the right person," said Mary Phalin, who lives a few doors down from the Glista home. "I felt all along like it had to be somebody she knew. We've all been really scared. I feel relieved, but I'll still be pretty watchful."
Staff Writers Clarissa Walker, Margaret O'Shea and Vicky Eckenrode contributed to this article.