First-degree murder charges were filed this week against a second man in the murder of a New Jersey kindergarten teacher and mother of three whose beaten and strangled body was found in a shallow grave.
Leiner Miranda Lopez, 26, was charged with first-degree murder, hindering, failing to dispose of human remains, and tampering with physical evidence, Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez said in a statement.
He had been previously charged with desecrating or concealing human remains.
He was charged in the death of Luz Hernandez, 33, whose body was found in an industrial area three miles from her Jersey City home on Feb. 7.
He has not been located, and officials have not said whether they believe he’s still alive. Prosecutors ask anyone with information regarding his whereabouts to contact the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office at 201-915-1345.
The victim’s estranged husband and the father of her children, Cesar Santana, 36, was also charged with first-degree murder and other charges in the domestic violence case. He is in custody, and a grand jury is reviewing the investigation.
The news comes after details about the Hernandez’ killing were revealed in an affidavit for probable cause outlining what police learned in the days after they uncovered her beaten and strangled remains in a shallow grave in Kearny.
Family members and Santana, 36, the father of her children, reported Hernandez missing on Feb. 6. During a welfare check at Hernandez’ apartment the next day, police did not find the beloved kindergarten teacher.
Inside, officers saw apparent bloodstains in the bedroom, cleaning supplies, a mop, and a faint smell of bleach in the apartment,” the affidavit said.
Authorities found her body near where police pulled over Santana and Lopez in a traffic stop police the previous day. They had been loading a black and yellow bin into a Honda. The car had an expired registration tag, and police impounded the vehicle.
“A search of the Honda revealed a large black and yellow bin with wheels, a shovel with apparent black hairs, a pick axe, rope with apparent black hair and blood stains, and clear plastic sheeting with apparent bloodstains and soil,” the affidavit states. “The rope matched the rope near the grave.”
Police arrested Santana at a motel in Miami on Feb. 10.
Hernandez was a kindergarten teacher at BelovED Community Charter School in Jersey City. Her death terrified her co-workers and young students.
“It’s heartbreaking. It’s touching. She had children. She was a schoolteacher,” bus attendant Miss T. said at her funeral procession on Feb. 15.
Bret Schundler, the school’s founder, said she touched many lives.
“People are devastated,” he said. “The way that she touched others and the way they feel about her shows the kind of person she was.”
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