AIKEN - Early Friday, Aiken County officers swarmed a run-down green house at 177 Bettis Academy Road in Graniteville. It was where Reinaldo J. Rivera - a man charged in three slayings - lived until a month ago.
The house had sat vacant with high grass left uncut for several weeks. Detectives picked through the house and surrounding yard for several hours, looking for clues that might link Mr. Rivera to Aiken County's most high-profile homicides.
Across the river, for neighbors of Sgt. Marni Glista on Oakridge Drive in west Augusta, Mr. Rivera's arrest marked the end of a terrifying month of uncertainty.
"After I heard it today, I felt confident that they had the right guy," said Mabel Harley, who lives a few doors down from the house where Sgt. Glista was found brutally attacked after Labor Day. "I thought, `Thank the Lord, they got him."'
Ms. Harley and others had feared the Glista case would linger on the books as another unsolved metro Augusta homicide.
"I didn't really like it at first when (the police) kept it so quiet, but I figured it was part of the case," she said.
Lucretia Cochran, who lives across the street from the Glista home, said she was not completely convinced the case is closed. She remembers seeing a man fitting Mr. Rivera's description outside the house that day, but there was also another man, she said.
"There's still questions in my mind that maybe there might be someone else," Ms. Cochran said. "If this is the guy, I just hope they convict him enough to put him away for the rest of his life."
Former neighbors of Mr. Rivera were similarly perplexed. They wondered how a man so friendly, quiet and complacent could be capable of the horrors of which he is accused.
A county deed showed he and Tammy Rivera purchased a new home on Sudlow Ridge Road in late August. That matches descriptions from neighbors, who said the couple moved from the home a month ago.
Mr. Rivera lived less than two miles from the wooded area where the body of Tiffaney Wilson was discovered in December.
One neighbor said Ms. Rivera returned a few weeks ago and asked whether she had seen anybody break into the Rivera's former house. Ms. Rivera told the neighbor - who identified herself only as Jenny - that someone had broken into the abandoned house after they moved out. Jenny described Ms. Rivera as neat and groomed.
In January, neighbor Mary Williams had her only encounter with Mr. Rivera. The murder suspect yelled from his back yard to her yard and asked Mrs. Williams' husband whether he wanted some wood. The husband accepted, and Mr. Rivera gave it to the couple for free.
In return, the couple invited Mr. Rivera over for an oyster roast. He declined.
On Friday afternoon, Mr. Rivera's arrest was a hot topic of conversation in the mini-mart near the home, Mrs. Williams said.
"Very scary. Very." Mrs. Williams said about the arrest of her former neighbor. "You just don't think about that every day, somebody living that close to you and committing those crimes. I've lived in the Valley all my life, and anything can happen.
"You just don't know how close it is until it does happen."
In the neighborhood where the Rivera family moved, Ms. Rivera and two small children, a boy and a girl, had just settled into their $80,000, one-story, vinyl-sided house on Sudlow Ridge Road. They spent much of their time in the front yard and under a front porch adorned by orange chrysanthemums, a wooden scarecrow and plastic patio furniture, neighbors said. They were quiet and kept to themselves.
Above all, residents of Sgt. Glista's neighborhood want closure.
"I just hope it's the right person," Mary Phalin said. "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 Johnny Edwards and Vicky Eckenrode contributed to this article.
Reach Greg Rickabaugh, Chasiti Kirkland and Margaret O'Shea at (803) 279-6895
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