Savannah Page Gold was as precious, say those who knew her, as her last name implied. The 21-year-old possessed a kind, loving nature and effervescent personality they say will shine on in their hearts and memories.



"We were supposed to grow really, really old together," her best friend Virjona Gjuraj said Sunday afternoon as she sat on the front porch of Gold's parents' home. A steady stream of friends and neighbors came to pay their respects, bringing food along with condolences for the grief-stricken .

"We used to always go to these grocery stores and we'd see these really, really old people, and she'd be like, 'That's going to be us one day, people with beers and cigarettes in their hands,' said Gjuraj, recalling her friend of 14 years.

Gjuraj had talked to Gold about 10 minutes before the encounter Jacksonville police say that took her life Wednesday night.

She said Gold was so happy. The two women chatted about hanging out together. Gjuraj said Gold had begged her Monday and Tuesday to go out with her, but Gjuraj was under the weather with a cold she jokingly blamed on Gold.


"I'd promised her that Wednesday or Thursday, I'll come out. Now, she's gone," she said. "She was so full of life. She was so caring. She was my 'one of a kind.' That will never change. There is no other like her."

The search for Gold ended late Saturday when Jacksonville police discovered her body in a Westside lake after investigators said the primary suspect in her disappearance told them about her death and disposal of her body.

Lee Rodarte Jr., 28, is charged with murder and tampering with evidence in Gold's death. Rodarte, the culinary manager of Bonefish Grill in Mandarin, is accused of killing Gold early Wednesday evening inside his car in the parking lot of the shopping center where the restaurant is located.

Police said Rodarte and Gold had a casual romantic relationship. Her friends said Rodarte put up missing person flyers about Gold at the restaurant, 10950 San Jose Blvd., after she disappeared.

Security surveillance cameras recorded video of an apparent struggle between Rodarte and Gold inside his car the night she disappeared, Lt. Steve Gallaher of the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office Homicide Unit said during a Sunday news conference.

The video of the encounter apparently is the last time Gold was seen alive.

A Duval County judge ordered Rodarte jailed without bail Sunday. Gold's parents, Sherri and Dan Gold, attended his initial appearance hearing. Returning home from the hearing, her parents — whom Gjuraj described as devastated and in shock — declined to comment.

Gjuraj knows Rodarte. She, Gold and Rodarte would go to dinner and hang out together. She had spoken to Rodarte a couple days before he was arrested.

"It knocked me out. It just caught me literally off guard," said Gjuraj, noting she never would have suspected him.

Gallaher said the surveillance video showed Gold parking next to Rodarte's car at 5:31 p.m. Wednesday. She went over and talked to him for a few minutes through his driver door window. Gold then got inside the passenger seat of his vehicle. At 5:45 p.m., the video showed an apparent struggle between Rodarte and Gold inside the car, he said.

"The car was shaking, and the door was opening and closing," Gallaher said.

Rodarte is seen walking to Gold's car, opening its driver's side door and what appears to be taking an object from inside it and putting it in his car.

"He then returns to her car and appears to puncture the front left tire of her vehicle," Gallaher said.

At 6:04 p.m., Rodarte drove out of the shopping center parking. At no time was Gold seen getting out of his car, Gallaher said.

Growing increasingly worried, family and friends began searching for Gold a short time later when she failed to show up for her shift. Their fears intensified, family members have said, when they received text messages from Gold's cell phone about 20 minutes apart beginning at 6:11 p.m. Wednesday.

The texts — riddled with misspelled words — claimed she had met a really great guy and they were running away together, according to a sheriff's office missing person report for Gold.

Despite repeatedly trying to contact her, none of her family or friends could reach Gold. Her car subsequently was found in the shopping center parking lot. It was unlocked with her purse inside. One of its tires had been punctured and flattened.

As they searched for her, detectives were reviewing the surveillance camera video of the parking lot and surrounding area.

Police said Gold and Rodarte had known each other several months and had an on-and-off-again relationship as a couple. Rodarte became the focus of the investigation when investigators discovered discrepancies in his initial statement to detectives, Gallaher said.

Gallaher said Rodarte initially denied seeing or being with Gold, or even being at the shopping center Wednesday night. However, the video shows Rodarte was there, he said.

On Saturday, police initially took Rodarte into custody on a warrant for driving with a suspended driver's license. When detectives again interviewed him about Gold's disappearance, Rodarte incriminated himself in her death and disposal of her body, Gallaher said.

Gallaher said Rodarte subsequently led police to the lake in woods at the dead end of Club Duclay Drive, where detectives assisted by the sheriff's office dive team recovered human remains they believe to be Gold. He said an autopsy would be done Sunday or Monday along with the official identification.

He declined to comment on whether police have recovered a weapon in the case. Detectives continued searching for people who might know about what happened and interviewing potential witnesses, Gallaher said.

Rodarte has a prior record of civil and criminal traffic offenses in Duval County from 2005 to 2016, court records show.

Neighbors at the two most recent addresses for Rodarte listed in court records said Sunday they didn't know him or recognize his photo.

Gold had worked at Bonefish Grill about two years. She was well-liked by co-workers as well as customers, her friends said.

The restaurant was closed Sunday.

A GoFundMe account has been established to help Gold's family pay for funeral expenses. It had $6,291 in donations as of 4 p.m. Sunday. The account is at www.gofundme.com/savannahgoldangel.

The reality of Gold's death remained at odds Sunday with the lingering hope that somehow this is all just a horrible waking nightmare for those who loved her.

"Now, she just needs to come back home any time … She needs to come back home," Gjuraj said.