Slain college counselor laid to rest

by: DaShawn Brown, Mark Becker, Elsa Gillis Updated:

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Friends and family said goodbye to a Central Piedmont Community College counselor, killed in her southwest Charlotte apartment.

Services for Amanda Strous were held in York, Pennsylvania where she grew up.

Strous moved to Charlotte last summer and was set to get married next month.

Her family said a scholarship fund has been set up in her name at Shippensburg University where she graduated.

Matthew Benner was arrested in Nevada on Monday.

Fiance of slain college counselor: "She was the light of my world"

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police charged Benner, 28, with murder after a woman died in an apartment fire Saturday in Steele Creek.

Officials said Benner was found in his car outside a hotel in Nevada on Monday and was charged with the murder of Amanda Strous, 27.


(Benner)

Officers responded just after 5:30 p.m. Saturday to the fire in the 12100 block of Toscana Way.  

Firefighters pulled Strous, 27, from inside the apartment and MEDIC transported her to Carolinas Medical Center-Steele Creek. She was pronounced deceased at the hospital.

Benner was arrested in Nevada on Monday morning with the help of the U.S. Marshals Violent Offender Task Force, the Nye County Sheriff’s Office and the Violent Criminal Apprehension Team.

Officials said Benner's car was parked at a Best Western and he was found asleep inside it. Nevada officials said Benner confessed.

He will be charged with murder and first-degree arson and is in the custody of the Nye County Sheriff’s Office awaiting extradition.

Officials said the initial investigation indicated that the fire was intentionally set while Strous was inside the apartment. It was not a random act of violence, according to officials.

Channel 9 found out that Benner lived in same apartment complex as Strous, and he may have been stalking her.

Strous worked in the Counseling Services Department at Central Piedmont Community College, a spokesperson with the college confirmed.

She was engaged to be married July 30.

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Strous was a former Shippensburg University student and played field hockey and was a coach at the university.

As part of Strous’ graduate project, she wrote a letter about how she would want people to remember her:

“When I die I want to be remembered as a person who loved life to the fullest,” she wrote in the letter, “I want a positive impression to be left behind with close friends and family, and people I have encountered throughout my life. I hope to have brought some sort of joy or meaningful fulfillment in their lives. I want to be remembered for my hard work, dedication, honesty and integrity."

LINK: Read her full letter here

Neighbors said they were shaken up over the incident.

“It's very sad,” Susie Medellin said. “I'm wondering about this poor lady who has lost her life. I feel for her and her family and everyone involved.”

Friends of Strous told Eyewitness News that word of an arrest brought some relief.

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“It's been hard,” said Katie Pufnock, a college teammate of Strous on the field hockey team at Shippenburg University in Pennsylvania.

“You pray that the justice system works, but we've all been hoping that it does. We're certainly relieved to find that everyone's been working really hard,” Pufnock added.

Detectives from Charlotte arrived in Nevada to interview Benner but it could be several days before he returns to face the charges.

The case has hit hard at the upscale complex where Benner lived in the apartment above Strous. Larry Tobias, who did not even know Strous, said Benner’s arrest should help.

“Really, let's hope justice is served for that young lady,” Tobias said.

ABC News spoke with both the parents and fiancé of Strous, who are remembering her as a positive person who was always smiling and having fun.

“It's a parent's worst nightmare,” said Crystal Strous. “You never think it’s going to happen to you.”

Her father, Eric Strous, said, “I would tell you I'm broken, shattered, but as (my wife) said, love hope and faith are the foundational properties that we have raised our children to young adults that are productive in giving back.”

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A time that was supposed to be filled with joy, is now leaving her loved ones in shock -- especially the man she planned to marry.

“She lit up a room when she walked in,” said Corey McCleaf. “Her smile was just one of those things that people had to be with. When she smiled they smiled.”

“She was the light of my world,” McCleaf said. “She was one of the most positive people I've ever been around.”

Family and friends in Strous' Pennsylvania hometown held a vigil for her Monday night. 

Benner's attorneys issue statement:

Matthew Benner’s attorneys issued a statement Saturday asking the public to reserve judgment in the case until the facts are presented in court. 

Law enforcement in Nevada made statements regarding alleged events surrounding Mr. Benner’s arrest. There has also been extensive speculation in various media reports about the events at issue in this case. We, as officers of the court and as the attorneys for Mr. Benner, ask that the public reserve judgment in this case until the facts are presented in court. We have complete confidence in the justice system’s ability to find the truth, and we do not intend to try this case in the media, nor will we make further statements regarding this pending criminal case unless our ethical duties require it.”

 

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