Friends remember former Hidden Valley student whose remains were found at Hollins University

Jessica Dickson’s friends left cigarettes and Diet Coke on her grave to celebrate their memories with her

Jessica Darling Dickson's remains were found in February 2021.

SALEM, Va. – Maria Collette brought flowers to the gravesite of her best friend, Jessica Dickson. From preschool to Hidden Valley High School, they were lifelong friends — but Dickson’s life ended too soon.

“My first memory of her is a green velvet dress and just this beautiful, thick, ponytail going to music class together and she was just cute as a button,” said Collette.

In 2019, Collette knew something was wrong when she couldn’t reach her.

With no immediate family still alive and concerns about her heading down the wrong path, Collette was the one who filed a missing person report.

“The police were like, ‘Maybe she left town, or maybe she did this or maybe she did that,’ and I just knew. I just knew from the beginning. I was like, ‘Something happened to her, somebody did something to her,’” she recalled.

Dickson’s remains were found two years later, in 2021, on Hollins University campus, though the 31-year-old had no affiliation with the school.

“It’s a huge campus, it’s a whole lot of land, a whole lot of places I guess somebody figured they could hide something,” she added.

38-year-old Christopher Lee Elliott was charged Monday in connection with her murder.

Collette said she didn’t know Elliott, but that Dickson did, only as an acquaintance.

His mug shot haunts her.

“Knowing that that’s the last face she saw when I saw his face, was very upsetting. Just knowing that there was no one there to save her,” Collete said.

Now, Collette and Dickson’s friend Devon Taylor aren’t thinking about her last moments, but instead, with cigarettes and Diet Coke on her grave, they’re celebrating the good times and the lasting memories they made together.

About the Author:

Alyssa Rae grew up in Roanoke and graduated from Virginia Tech. An avid sports fan, she spent her first 8 years in TV as a sports anchor and reporter.