The revelation came through a confession disclosed publicly in court on Wednesday as van der Sloot entered a guilty plea to extorting her mother Beth Holloway for details surrounding her death in 2010.
The news brought members of the Mountain Brook community, where Natalee grew up, a mixed sense of relief, celebration and sadness. They closely followed the case for years as they supported the Holloway family, but many wondered if this day would ever come.
“Very long overdue,” said Mountain Brook resident Lauren Goode.
As a mother, the long-awaited confession made Goode feel emotional for the Holloway family. She is around the same age Natalee would be today.
“This has been going on for a long time, and I hope that her family also feels some justice and closure,” Goode said.
Mountain Brook Mayor Stewart Welch applauded the efforts of the Holloways, the legal teams and law enforcement to bring van der Sloot to justice. But even if this confirmed people’s suspicions, the details were hard to hear.
“Felt like another punch in the stomach,” Welch said. “Even though you know or you had a sense of belief that [Joran van der Sloot] had committed this murder, to find out that he did and to find out the details literally felt like a punch in the stomach.”
Brad Simpson, the owner of Smith’s Variety, vividly remembers her disappearance. He said Wednesday’s news was bittersweet.
“We’re glad that there’s closure,” Simpson said. “We’re horrified to learn of the details. We’re horrified to learn the truth is it did happen. There was still that little bit of hope that maybe something, a miracle, could have happened.”
For him, the nature of her death hits home. He has an 18-year-old daughter, the same age Natalee was when she died.
“I can’t imagine going through this process like the Holloway family did … The community has been there for the family and still wants to be in any way we can,” Simpson said.