The estranged husband of a New Jersey kindergarten teacher whose beaten and strangled body was found in a shallow grave three miles from her home has been charged, along with a second man who is being sought, in connection with her death, officials said.
Cesar Santana, 36, and Leiner Miranda Lopez, 26, both of Jersey City, were charged with one count of desecrating/concealing human remains, according to a news release from the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office.
They are suspected in the death of Luz Hernandez, 33, of Jersey City, whose body was found in a shallow grave in an industrial area in nearby Kearny. Murder charges have not been filed in the case.
Santana was arrested after midnight Friday at a motel in Miami by a local, state, and federal fugitive task force. He’s in jail in Florida awaiting extradition to New Jersey, officials said. An arrest warrant has been issued for Lopez, who has not been located, officials said.
Investigators linked the two suspects to the crime from a traffic stop on Sunday before Hernandez was reported missing, but near where authorities later discovered her body, authorities said.
The two were in an unregistered vehicle that was impounded. A search of that vehicle uncovered evidence, prosecutors said without elaborating.
Multiple news reports, citing friends and associates, say Santana was Hernandez’s estranged husband and father of their three children, but officials have not declared that publicly. Citing an unnamed source, NJ.com reported that Santana had been to the victim’s home on Monday to collect his belongings.
The victim’s family, friends, and young students mourned her loss.
In tears and holding a handwritten note, one of her 6-year-old students paid her respects to her teacher during a candlelight vigil.
“I love you,” the girl said, reciting her note as tears streamed down her face, in an interview with NBC New York station WNBC.
News of her death shocked family members.
“She was always happy,” the victim’s brother, Christiano Hernandez, told CBS New York. “She loved kids. She became a teacher because she loved being around kids.”
The news hit her neighbors hard.
“It’s very close to home. She’s my neighbor, and when I learned it, I sat in my car and cried,” an unidentified woman told WNBC.
BelovED founder Bret Schunder told NJ.com that Hernandez started as a teacher’s assistant in 2017 after graduating from Saint Peter’s University that year.
“She was a wonderful co-worker,” Schundler said. “She was a beloved member of the BelovED family. People are feeling devastated by this.”
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