An arrest has been made after a college counselor was found dead in her burning apartment just a few weeks before her wedding. Cops in Nevada arrested Mathew Benner, 28, in relation to the murder of Amanda Strous, 27. CBS Charlotte reports that Benner lived in the apartment above Strous. She was found dead on June 18 after firefighters removed her body from her home in Charlotte. Strous was rushed to a nearby hospital where she was later pronounced dead.
He’s expected to be charged with murder and arson.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Benner Allegedly Stood Outside Strous’ Apartment With Blood on His Hands & Fled When He Heard Sirens
WBTV reports that police and firefighters were called to Strous’ home at around 5:30 p.m. on June 18. Her body was pulled from the home and she was rushed to Carolinas Medical Center – Steele Creek where she was pronounced dead. Early on, police said that the fire had been set intentionally.
The Charlotte Observer reports that Benner was arrested by U.S. Marshals in Nevada and is being held in Nye County jail pending extradition back to North Carolina. NBC Charlotte reports that Benner was arrested while he slept in his car in the parking lot of a Best Western hotel. WBTV’s Sharon Smith tweeted that the Nye County Sheriff’s Office says Benner confessed.
NBC Charlotte’s Diana Rugg reports that on the night of Strous’ murder, he stood outside her apartment with blood on his hands telling neighbors not to enter. He then ran when he heard police sirens.
Strous’ roommate was in Pennsylvania at the time of the wedding, while her fiance was in Maryland for his bachelor party, reports the Observer. The roommate told CBS Charlotte’s Sara Small that Benner “always seemed to be around.” She added that he was “socially awkward” but that they were never afraid of him.
Her mother, Crystal, told the Observer, “This was the only weekend that she was alone down there.” She added that her daughter was the oldest of three children had been a keen soccer and field hockey player. Crystal Strous also said, “She lived her life as graciously and as faith-filled as any parent could have asked for. She was genuine and real and very compassionate. She was a wonderful listener.”
2. Strous Was Due to Marry a Man Named Cory McCleaf in July
According to her Facebook page, Strous was due to be married in July to a man named Cory McCleaf. The Charlotte Observer reports that the couple moved from their native Pennsylvania to North Carolina when he got a job back in October. The couple were living apart until their marriage.
McCleaf works as a coach at a Crossfit gym in Pineville, North Carolina, according to their Facebook page. On their website, McCleaf writes that he spent a year and a half as a Strength and Conditioning Coach at Penn State University and Mount Saint Mary’s University. That profile adds that he’s lived in North Carolina since 2014.
Speaking to NBC Charlotte, McCleaf’s boss, Michelle Shuck, paid tribute to Strous saying, “She’s the sweetest, nicest person and a heart of gold. [She] was really doing so well and loved it and was making a lot of progress and just enjoyed being fit in the community.”
3. Benner’s Brother Is a Las Vegas Attorney Who Says He Is ‘Addressing Legal Matters’ for His Brother
Benner’s brother, Christopher, told the Charlotte Observer that he is “addressing legal matters” for his brother. Christopher Brenner is a lawyer in the Las Vegas-area where he works for Smith Larsen & Wixom.
According to his LinkedIn page, Mathew Benner is a representative for an air traffic control software company named Adacel. He’s a graduate of Kent State University where he attained a B.A. in English in 2010. During his time at the Ohio school, Benner worked as a security guard on campus. After leaving Kent State, Benner worked for a time as a GED tutor at the College of Southern Nevada.
4. Her College Field Hockey Coach Paid Tribute Saying He Still Hears Her Voice & Laughter
Strous was a NCAA championship-winning field hockey player at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania, according to a tribute to her posted on the school’s website.
Her friends have been paying tribute to Strous on Twitter using the hashtag “#FlyHigh22.” A reference to her squad number. Strous’ coach, Bertie Landes, wrote in a tribute, “One life matters, and indeed, the life of Amanda Strous mattered to her teammates, friends, her family and her beloved Ship Family. Her love, care and concern for each of us was reflected in her daily life while at Ship and in her move to North Carolina. Her memory will live in our hearts forever. May the lessons she taught us through her passion for life guide us in the days ahead.”
On her Facebook page, Strous said she worked as a counselor at Central Piedmont Community College. She studied clinical mental health and psychology at Shippensburg University. A spokesman for Central Piedmont told the Charlotte Observer, “The college is deeply saddened by Amanda’s death. The thoughts and prayers of the college community are with Amanda’s family, friends and coworkers.”
The Observer reports that Strous spent time as an assistant field hockey coach at Hamilton College in New York in 2012.
A tribute to Strous on Shippensburg University’s website included that during her time at the school, she took a class named Death and Dying. In that class she wrote:
Ship Field Hockey and My Teammates,
Ship Hockey was some of the best times of my life and it always held a special place in my heart. It taught me so much more than just how to be an athlete and even though some of those life lessons were tough to learn, I am very grateful for them. This program shaped me into a better person. As you all know, Ship Hockey is more than just a team, it’s family.
I was blessed to have a family of sisters to form a bond with that was so rare. The bonds go way beyond the sport and last many years after being an athlete. I wanted to say thank you to all of my teammates, coaches and players that played a supportive and inspirational role in my life. I was proud to be a Lady Raider and that will never change.
Ladies, thank you so much for sharing the passion we had for the sport we loved. It changed my life and so did you all. I love my best friend ship hockey. Please continue to find passion and meaning in your life, for without those two things life is meaningless.
Celebrate my life and reminisce through the good times, because I am in a better place and you only live once.
5. A Vigil Was Held for Strous in Her Hometown on the Night of June 20
A vigil was held for Strous in York, Pennsylvania, on the night of June 20. The Facebook page for the event reads:
Sadly we lost a beautiful, strong, and courageous woman last night. Amanda Kay Strous was a 27-year-old female who was living her beautiful life in North Carolina while preparing to wed the love of her life Cory McCleaf.
Tragically she was taken from us last night and tomorrow night, June 20th at 8:30 we will be paying respect to her family, Cory, and most importantly, Amanda We ask that you bring a candle and a way to light your light for her.
Her favorite color was purple so if you can please wear it for her. Thank you and please continue to pray for our girl and her family.
While a Go Fund Me page for Strous has raised over $10,000 to help her family pay for funeral expenses. Friends also plan to celebrate her life by making bracelets featuring angel wings and the number 22.