‘A beautiful spirit’: Friends remember Leland woman found dead in hotel room

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SHALLOTTE, NC (WWAY) – Close friends are reacting to the murder of a 23-year-old Leland woman.

The Shallotte Police Department found Keonna Graham dead in a hotel room at the Sure Stay Hotel in Shallotte around 11:30 p.m. Monday.

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Police arrested 52-year-old Michael Todd Hill early Tuesday morning in Southport and charged him with Graham’s murder. Police say Graham and Hill were in an on-and-off relationship.

“She could smile and you’ll start smiling,” Teonna Smith, who went to high school with Graham, said. “You could be having a bad day and she’ll come up to you. She doesn’t even have to say anything. You just start smiling once you see her.”

Smith says Graham graduated from North Brunswick High School, and they’ve been friends for years.

“When she walked in the room, she shined,” friend Phateama Wheeler said. “She would talk to somebody who wouldn’t talk to anybody.”

Wheeler says she and Graham worked together at Lindley Habilitation Services and Pender Correctional Center.

Friends had a hard time putting their thought into words as they remembered Graham, Wednesday.

“She just loved being around people,” Valinda White said. “She had a very kind and just a beautiful spirit all around. You would just have to know her.”

White says she met Graham when they were in high school, and have been close friends ever since.

Friends say they were devastated when they got the news about Graham’s death.

“I felt broken because I was just with her,” Wheeler said. “I couldn’t believe somebody went out and this happened. Not her. I’m like no, not her. Not her. She’s too sweet. Too caring too loving.”

Wheeler and Smith says they were in utter disbelief after just seeing Graham Saturday.

“The last words were ‘I love you,'” Smith said. “I never thought those would be the last words and the last time I would see her. When I picked up the phone to call her on Sunday, there was no answer.”

Smith says Graham was always helping others, and she never expected something like this to happen to her.

“She would give you the clothes off her back,” Smith said. “That person who always would come to your rescue, no matter what.”

Graham’s friends want her to be remembered for what she did for everyone else.

“And how much impact she had on everybody,” White said. “She was one of those types of people who you just cannot forget about her.”

Police say the investigation is ongoing and they’re waiting on the results of an autopsy.