WTVD-TV reported that police believe Locklear's ex-boyfriend, 17-year-old Je'Michael Malloy, killed her in the heat of the moment in a crime of passion. Because of that, he is only charged with second-degree murder because the murder was not premeditated.
Police say Malloy confessed to strangling Locklear on March 11 during an argument, then dumping her body in the South River near the Cumberland/Sampson County line.
It was an emotional scene outside the courtroom Wednesday. Danielle Locklear's family left in tears. Many of them were too distraught to talk, but others were too outraged to hold it in.
Some held signs, reading "Justice for Danielle."
The Locklear family was extremely close to Malloy, who even participated in those community-wide searches for the girl.
Now, Malloy is accused of her murder, and Locklear's family feels betrayed.
"And to find out that the perpetrator, or the person who took her life allegedly is her own boyfriend, is a lot to take," said Locklear's aunt, Chena Simmons. "It's a lot, we can't deal with it."
Malloy faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Malloy's friend, 18-year-old Dominic Lock, is charged with being an accomplice to the disposal of Locklear's body.
Late last week, investigators executed search warrants on two homes, including Malloy's home, gathering evidence and conducting several interviews.
Police said they received more than 500 tips and leads from the public over the course of the investigation.
In the weeks following Locklear's disappearance, search parties were organized, missing persons billboards went up across the area, and several agencies joined the investigation, including the FBI.