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Pham in video minutes before found

A collection of surveillance videos released by Fairfax County police Wednesday morning shows Vanessa Pham's Scion tC hatchback entering the Fairfax Plaza shopping center on Gallows Road, then leaving just 10 minutes before she was found stabbed to death a short distance away.

Pham, 19, was found inside the overturned Scion in a ditch near Route 50 and Gallows Road in the Falls Church area at 3:34 p.m. on June 27.

Vanessa Pham. (Family photo)

Officer Don Gotthardt said Wednesday that witnesses had last seen Pham inside the JD Nail Salon in the Fairfax Plaza sometime after 3 p.m.

Video compiled from several surveillance cameras in the parking lot shows Pham's Scion entering the parking lot from southbound Gallows Road, then driving past a self-storage business and a Unique Thrift store. There are no time stamps on the video released publicly, but they were available to police.

The car is then seen going back the same way and heading to the exit on Gallows Road. Three vehicles pull behind the Scion, waiting for it to turn right onto Gallows Road, which it then did at 3:24 p.m.

No video was released of Pham parking or entering or exiting her car, and it cannot be clearly determined if she is driving.

The Scion was found about a half-mile away, having headed a short distance from an office parking lot, the wrong way down an off-ramp to the parking lot, and then into a wooded area and a shallow ravine close to Williams Drive. Police believe Pham was behind the wheel when the car went into the ravine.

Police hope that anyone who saw Pham or the white Scion in the parking lot call 1-866-411-TIPS/8477.

This item has been updated since it was first published.

-- Tom Jackman

By Tom Jackman  |  July 7, 2010; 3:03 PM ET
Categories:  Fairfax , Falls Church , Homicide , Tom Jackman , Unsolved , Updates  
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It seems to me that someone may have been in the car with her the entire time... maybe a passenger, but possibly someone hiding on the floor of the backseat.

Posted by: steampunk | July 7, 2010 1:22 PM | Report abuse

WOW! Ten minutes later she's found dead? WOW!

Posted by: waterfrontproperty | July 7, 2010 2:27 PM | Report abuse

It sooo surreal looking @ that footage.
To me, it is a kidnap/hostage/murder situation but by whom?? Some1 she knows??

Even if they were in the back seat, how could they not have be seen leaving the car?
It's a very busy place that Gallows Road/Rt50 corridor.

Posted by: Rocc00 | July 7, 2010 4:41 PM | Report abuse

Seriously WAPO, you put a commerical in a video for police assistance? Good grief.

Posted by: Greent | July 7, 2010 5:01 PM | Report abuse

I can't help wondering if maybe she was struggling with her attacker/kidnapper in the final seconds, and maybe that's why the car went the wrong way down that service road and went out of control.

Hopefully someone remembers seeing her with someone at her car before it left the center's parking lot, or the driver of that car that pulled up behind her before her last drive, maybe saw something.

Posted by: blackjack65 | July 7, 2010 6:10 PM | Report abuse

If you're curious about the shopping center, a site called VA Hometown Locator has a useful overhead map:,ftc,2,fid,2458582,n,fairfax%20plaza%20shopping%20center.cfm

Many years ago, the Center had a Best Catalog store. I think the anchor store now is a Grandmart type food market store.

Posted by: blackjack65 | July 7, 2010 6:13 PM | Report abuse

Vehicle waited too long to turn. Missed its first opportunity at 2:00 in the tape and then again at about 2:10.

Posted by: blasmaic | July 7, 2010 6:17 PM | Report abuse

The fuzz should be investigating any men she knew. I'll bet she wasn't interested in a guy and he went nuts and killed her.

So sad.

Posted by: knight1977 | July 7, 2010 7:13 PM | Report abuse

It's a little odd that there's a fairly long gap in cars traveling to the right and she doesn't turn for quite a while. I wonder if it was someone in the car that attacked her at that point.

Posted by: ct24535 | July 7, 2010 7:59 PM | Report abuse

She was found a few minutes after the video was taken...but you can bet she was killed long before then...only way to disprove that is to positively identify her as the driver...

No doubt there are two cars involved since I don't think the killer walked away after letting the car go down that embankment...

Posted by: pentagon40 | July 7, 2010 8:59 PM | Report abuse

Those 18-20 are also adults and not "kids" or "teens", meaning they shouldn't be called those words. This article as viewed from the main page of the Metro section calls the young woman a "teen" but she's not. It's unfortunate that Vanessa Pham was found murdered in her car but it's good that video has been found showing her less than an hour before her death.

Posted by: LibertyForAll | July 7, 2010 11:20 PM | Report abuse

LibertyForAll... It is possible to be both a young adult and a teenager. This young woman was 19 years old. Let's break that down. She was nine-(say it with me)-TEEN. The oprative word in that age is "teen." It is simple to determine if someone is a teen...hint their age ends with "teen." I hope you are getting this.

So, just to recap. If you are 18 or 19, you are a teenager AND a young adult...but definately still a teenager.

Posted by: ronjon629 | July 8, 2010 7:59 AM | Report abuse

libertyforall, get a life. Geebus. trees from the forest much dick?

Posted by: Rocc00 | July 8, 2010 9:03 AM | Report abuse

Being a scion tc owner myself, they have an automatic locking system if you forget to lock the car yourself. I believe its w/in a couple minutes when it locks itself. Therefore if the killer was in the car, they had to have made a quick stealth move into her car very shortly after she had gotten out unless when she was walking back to her car, there was someone there who had threatened her to be quiet and im assuming w/ a weapon, for if she had screamed there would have been people around to hear her.

There were also way too many opportunities for her to turn back onto gallows road which leads me to believe that something was going on in the car then.

Posted by: yoont | July 8, 2010 11:35 AM | Report abuse

I agree, the turn took too long. Someone was in the car with her. It was like the 3 cars behind her, was all in it. Why wait for all 3 cars to line up behind, just to turn?? I think it was a random act. Some guy got dissed when she ignored him...

Posted by: tlis | July 8, 2010 3:33 PM | Report abuse

That red pick-up truck driver turning in at 2:17 ish must've seen something... he had a good view... I hope he is talking to the police.

Posted by: rachel216 | July 8, 2010 5:50 PM | Report abuse

This story is just so sad. I leave close to that place and visit the shopping mall over there frequently. You bet I am scared now, passing it every day on my way home. This case is so strange. The Fairfax Plaza is so busy, but I have seen some strange people over there, who just stand outside and stare!
1. I think that if someone was with her already in the car, the police would have already arrested this person. There would be fingerprints all over the car, if it was her "friend", someone she knew.
2. In my opinion when she left the parking lot at 3:24 pm and 10 minutes later she was found dead, someone was in a car with her. As someone mentioned, these cars lock automatically once you start driving and her windows were down when she came into the parking lot & left the parking lot.
3. Since the windows are dark, in my opinion, someone was standing outside,in front of the shopping center, let's say Great Wall grocery store next to the nail salon she visited. I believe she did not lock the car thinking she will be back in 10 minutes from the nail salon and the stranger saw it. He got into her car without problems, so nobody caught anything and he sat on the backseat. She couldn't see anything from outside since her windows are dark. As some people already said, he probably started to talk to her at the exit, directing her to turn to the right on Gallows road, telling her where to go. He took her to the neighborhood where are just empty buildings and almost nobody is there during the day and I am not sure why he attacked her. I really hope somebody saw this man, but if he was kind of hiding in the backseat holding his knife close to her body, it's possible that nobody saw him.
4. The version that somebody was seeking some help and she rolled down the window and invited him into the car while driving on Gallows Road is in my opinion not possible. There are too many people and over the weekend many people walk there. Someone driving behind her or around would see this happening.People usually don't stop by for strangers and pull their windows down and then take them inside of their car. Just my opinion.
Sorry, for such a long comment, but I really think a lot about this case. I live in that neighborhood and drive by the shopping mall every day at least twice.
I pray for the family and hope that they will catch the person who did it. What a psychopat!!!

Posted by: marion222 | July 9, 2010 10:58 AM | Report abuse

Actually, scion tc's do NOT lock automatically once you start the car but DOES lock automatically if you forget to lock the car once you LEAVE your car (with in a minute or two once the key is not in the ignition and the doors are closed). Therefore if the killer were to have gotten into the car, it had to have been really soon after she had gotten out of her car or had to have forced Vannessa to be quiet while they both got in together once she had returned.

Posted by: yoont | July 9, 2010 3:02 PM | Report abuse

yoont - i see. yes, you are right then.if someone got inside of her car it had to be really very fast. maybe he was sitting in a car next to vannessa's car? i guess that is a stupid idea. it is such a shame that she did not park in a row where cameras would be able to catch her car. it's unbelievable. and the video is so bad, you can't really see inside of the car. i would hope that police have good systems to be able to somehow clear the picture by using some special methods, but i guess not. there is also one car backing up kind of while vannessa's car was driving out of the parking lot. i think that this car could have actually better view than the red track from gallows. and it is caught on camera, so maybe they can get the licence plate and find that person? there is also an elderly couple walking towards unique while vannessa is leaving the parking lot. i haven't seen many recommendations to contact these people.

Posted by: marion222 | July 9, 2010 6:42 PM | Report abuse

I have a theory about how this girl was murdered. The police lean toward it being a stranger, however, I'm sorry, but I believe it was someone known to her. Someone who had a romantic interest.
My wife, also a Vietnamese, was able to talk to Vanessa's mother, and she told my wife some details about her daughter's injuries. I won't mention exactly what they were since the police have not disclosed them, but roughly, there was disfigurement.
As I understand it, disfigurement, as with throwing acid in the face of females, is an Asian way of settling scores, etc.
The news accounts have shown pictures of a "boyfriend" she met in college. A non-Asian, who was on his way to visit her.
My theory is this: The assailant either wanted Vanessa for his own, or wanted to protect the family from "embarassment" over the distant boyfriend.
By chance, he saw her that day, and coaxed her to let him talk about his conflict. She let him in the car and they drove off. He began badgering her as they drove off, and she doesn't want to discuss it. He says, "Well, you don't want anyone to see me with you, take me over this way and you can let me out where no one can see me get out." They stop behind 8301 Arlington Blvd, he gets out, walks around to her side like he's going to say good-bye, draws a knife and attacks her through the wound down window. When her resistance stops, he reaches in and puts the trans in neutral. The car slowly drifts down to the end of that road, with the tires rubbing against the curb and keeping it going straight to the end where the car was found. I've seen long black marks from a tire at this curb. Usually tire marks on curbs are short and curved upward.
This was an attack driven by emotion. So many "extra" things done to damage her body and the car she was in, in broad daylight, so she or her car could never be enjoyed by anyone else ever again.
Vanessa was the niece of one of our friends at work, and that makes it more personal with us to do what we can to help in any way.
This event has spured me to buy a security camera system to install at our location, to help be the eyes and ears of the Fairfax County Police if anything else happens.
The last four digits of my phone number are 0526. Det. Colligan will know who I am.
Please look harder at those who knew Vanessa.

Posted by: live-nearby | July 9, 2010 6:57 PM | Report abuse

How would one go about petitioning to have that road renamed " Vanessa Pham Memorial Road " in posthumous honor of this beautiful life cut short? This is such a tragic story and it breaks my heart. I have already sent a check to Julie and hope that many others do the same to ease any financial burdens and comfort the family with an overflow of love from her "extended American family."

Posted by: genernator | July 9, 2010 9:31 PM | Report abuse

Vanessa, may you Rest In Peace. Soon the Fairfax Police and Detectives will find the person who took your life away. If someone saw something please come forward.

Posted by: ASAPGAP | July 12, 2010 4:41 PM | Report abuse

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