A Maryland man accused of killing his pregnant girlfriend — and then weeping alongside her parents at a press conference while she was missing — was allegedly engaged to another woman at the time of the killing, PEOPLE confirms.
On Wednesday, Tyler Tessier, 32, of Damascus, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder in the death of Laura Wallen, 31, according to a statement from Montgomery County Police.
Wallen, a popular 31-year-old high school teacher from Olney, Maryland, was four months pregnant when her body was found in a shallow grave in Damascus on Wednesday, more than a week after she was reported missing, Chief Tom Manger said during a Wednesday news conference.
Tessier is the last person known to have been with Wallen before her death, Manger said. Police said in a statement that Wallen was believed to have been pregnant with his unborn child.
During questioning, Tessier told detectives that he was engaged to another woman, according to police.
Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy said Tessier “was not honest with either woman,” local news station Fox 5 News reports.
Victim Was Shot in Back of Head
The medical examiner has not yet made a final determination as to the cause of death, but initial autopsy findings show Wallen was shot in the back of her head, a Montgomery County Police spokeswoman tells PEOPLE.
Wallen was a beloved figure at Wilde Lake High School in Howard County, where she had taught social studies since 2014.
Former student Aiyanah Moore, who took Wallen’s world history class, told the Washington Post that Wallen was known for her warm “jelly fish hugs,” so named because she would wiggle her arms while embracing her students.
“Come here, give me the jelly fish hug,” Wallen would tell her students, according to Moore, 18, who took her world history class last year, the Post reports.
Shades of Gone Girl
In a twist eerily reminiscent of the plot of the bestselling book and feature film, Gone Girl, Tessier pleaded for Wallen’s safe return during a press conference on Monday.
“There is nothing we cant fix together, myself and your family,” a tearful Tessier said at the press conference while holding hands with Wallen’s parents. “We are just looking or praying that you are safe.”
But Tessier was already on investigators’ radar when he spoke at the press conference.
“The decision to allow him to participate in that news conference was a calculated decision made by the detectives in this case for the expressed purpose of hearing what he had to say,” Manger said.
While the tactic had the family’s approval, it wasn’t easy for Wallen’s parents to stand next to Tessier, her father, Mark Wallen, told Fox 5 DC.
“It was absolutely the hardest thing that my wife could do,” he said. “Sit there next to him and hold his hand.”
“We were pretty sure it was Tyler, but we didn’t know where [Wallen] was and you can’t put somebody away on a missing person,” Mark Wallen added. “It defies description the awfulness and the horror that we have been put through during this.”
‘He’s Taken Me to the Middle of Nowhere’
Investigators say they believe Tessier killed Wallen on Sept. 3, one day after she was seen with him on surveillance video at a grocery store.
The day before, Wallen sent a text message to either her sister or a friend “saying that Tyler had taken her to an open field up in the Damascus area,” Manger said.
Wallen wrote, “’I’m not sure why we’re up here, but he’s taken me to this place in the middle of nowhere,’” the Manger said.
In a strange turn of events, Manger revealed that Wallen’s sister had received other text messages from Wallen’s phone on Sept. 4 that authorities believe were actually sent by Tessier.
Tessier allegedly drove Wallen’s car to the Columbia area, he said. During questioning, he admitted to disposing of her front tag, her driver’s license, and her iPhone, police allege.
He also allegedly texted an acquaintance, asking for a ride to Baltimore on Sunday to “clean up a mess,” but the person said no, Manger said.
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After police learned that Tessier allegedly made several trips to the secluded field in Damascus, investigators searched the property and found Wallen’s body.
Tessier was denied bond during his hearing on Thursday, according to court records. It is unclear whether he has retained an attorney.
Calls seeking comment from the Montgomery County State’s Attorney were not immediately returned.