Luz Hernandez: A kindergarten teacher was found buried in a shallow grave, now her estranged husband is charged in her death
The death of 33-year-old Luz Hernandez shocked her family and coworkers at BelovED Charter School, where she had spent the last five years of her life teaching kindergarteners.
She loved kids, her brother told CBS earlier this week. Her own children, her students and any kids, really – the very reason why she had decided to go into teaching.
So when Hernandez did not show up for work on Monday, staff at the school knew that something was wrong and asked Jersey City Police to do a wellness check. Inside Hernandez’s home, officers found blood splatter and evidence that would lead them to an even more gruesome discovery.
Just three miles away from her residence, Hernandez’s remains were found buried in a shallow grave. Prosecutors in the Garden State initially described her death as “suspicious,” before the case officially became a homicide investigation when an autopsy on Thursday determined that Hernandez died by blunt force trauma to the neck.
Her estranged husband and father of her kids, Cesar Santana, 36, has since been arrested on charges of desecrating and concealing human remains. Another man by the name of Leiner Miranda Lopez, 26, is also charged in Hernandez’s death but has yet to be taken into custody.
Here’s everything we know about the case:
Luz Hernandez ‘worked tirelessly to help children’
Hernandez was originally from the Dominican Republic. Her family moved to the US when she was five.
She began teaching at BelovED in 2017. Her two oldest children, a fourth and seventh grader, also attend the school.
Her sister, Jenny Tavares, wrote in the description of a GoFundMe page that it had always been Hernandez’s dream to work with and for children. The funds, more than $21,000 as of Friday evening, will go towards a scholarship fund for her three kids.
Hernandez was also pursuing a Master’s degree in education and would have graduated this May from St Peter’s College
“She was a passionate educator [who] worked tirelessly to improve children’s educational abilities,” Ms Tavares wrote.
In a statement on Friday, the school said that Hernandez will be remembered and celebrated “for all the joy that she brought to this world.”
BelovED founder Bret Schunder previously told NJ.com that the school would likely plan a tribute for Hernandez in the upcoming days.
“People loved her. She was a wonderful co-worker,” Mr Schundler said of Hernandez. “She was a beloved member of the BelovED family. People are feeling devastated by this.”
“There is going to be a desire to commemorate her and there’s going to be a desire to support her family,” Mr Schundler added. “Her whole family was involved, was part of the BelovED community.”
The school was closed on Wednesday after Hernandez’s body was found. Outside her home, students left flowers, teddy bears and candles in her tribute.
Suspect reportedly took Hernandez’s children to church on Sunday
Hernandez and 36-year-old Cesar Santana had separated in November but initially decided to live in the same home, relatives told FOX5.
Other family members said that Mr Santana was likely the last person to see Hernandez alive after spending some time with his three children on Saturday. On Sunday, he reportedly took the children to church.
“He went to the church with kids, like nothing happened,” Hernandez’s cousin Yajaira Germosen told NBC.
During the investigation by New Jersey police and the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office, it emerged that Mr Santana and Lenier Miranda Lopez were stopped by police on Sunday.
The unregistered vehicle was impounded. After the suspects were linked to the crime, further evidence was seized from the car on Tuesday.
Body is found buried in shallow grave
Hernandez was last seen alive on Saturday but was officially reported missing on Monday after she failed to show up to work.
Before discovering the body, police found “blood splatters” in Hernandez’s home near Lafayette Park in Kearny. Evidence then led them to the shallow grave just three miles away, NJ.com reported.
The body was found around 4.50pm on Tuesday.
The case became a homicide investigation on Thursday after prosecutors revealed an autopsy determined Hernandez died by blunt force trauma and compressions to the neck. Ms Tavares said her sister was a victim of domestic violence.
Loved ones of Hernandez reportedly tried to get in touch with Mr Santana on Thursday to no avail.
He was arrested shortly after midnight on Friday at a motel in Miami. He remains detained at the Miami-Dade Turner Guilford Night Detention Center.
Authorities in New Jersey, Florida, New York and Pennsylvania worked collectively to track down him, prosecutors said.
He is expected to face more charges once his extradition to New Jersey is completed.
Hernandez’s family demands justice
Hernandez leaves behind three children. Her youngest is just two years old.
The minors are now being cared for by her family.
“She was one of the best teachers, everybody loves her, all the kids. It’s just like, so complicated to think about this. We just want justice,” she told NBC. “We love her, her family, the friends. She was an amazing girl and it’s so unfair somebody takes away the life from her. Why?”
The Hudson County Prosecutor’s office has asked anyone with information to call 201-915-1345 or to leave an anonymous tip on its website.
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