Yadhira Romero Martinez vanished after leaving work on Thursday. She was found dead the next day in a room rented by a man who allegedly gave her a ride from her job and killed her, authorities say

By KC Baker
April 28, 2021 04:42 PM
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Yadhira Romero Martinez
Yadhira Romero Martinez
| Credit: GoFundMe

Last September, Yadhira Romero Martinez left her family behind in Mexico and moved to Minnesota, hoping for a better life.

Those dreams were shattered forever when the 19-year-old was found slain in the rented room of a Minneapolis home on Friday.

While authorities have only identified Martinez by her initials, the young woman's family has named her publicly as the victim, outlets including the Star Tribune, Fox 9, and WCCO report.

A "gentle kind soul who was working hard for her family," Martinez moved to Minneapolis with her younger brother, her cousin, Jun Romero, said, Fox 9 reports.

"She had come here, like most immigrant families, to find a better life for herself and to support her family back home," Romero wrote on Facebook.

According to the criminal complaint filed in connection with her killing, one of Martinez' family members called the police on Friday when she failed to return home on Thursday night after work.

Surveillance video from her employer in Bloomington shows her getting into the passenger seat of a vehicle with the Minnesota license plate 504XLJ, the complaint says. Surveillance camera video from Minneapolis shows her arriving at a home on the 3000 block of 18th Ave. South at about 6 p.m. with a man identified as Jose Daniel Cuenca-Zuniga, 23, according to the complaint.

On Friday, just after noon, the woman who owns the home on 18th Ave. South called the Minneapolis Fire Department because she saw "an unconscious woman" in one of the rooms she rented in her house, the complaint says.

"She said she walked by the partially opened door to the room around 7:30 a.m. and saw a woman's feet on the mattress," the complaint says.

Her renter, Cuenca-Zuniga, allegedly "told her the woman had too much to drink," the complaint says.

Later that morning, he packed a bag with clothes and food, locked the door and "drove away," alleges the complaint.

The homeowner called for help when she knocked on the door at 12:30 p.m. and no one answered. Firefighters broke down the door and found Martinez "dead, with a plastic bag lying across her forehead and wearing only a T-shirt," the complaint says.

Her face and neck were bruised and she had "what appeared to be handprints outlined in blood on her thighs," the complaint says.

An autopsy showed she died of multiple traumatic injuries. "Investigators found an object in the room that could have been the murder weapon," the complaint states.

On Sunday, police announced that Cuenca-Zuniga had been arrested in Ohio.

Jose Daniel Cuenca-Zuniga
Jose Daniel Cuenca-Zuniga
| Credit: Minneapolis Police Department

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On Wednesday, he was charged with intentional second-degree murder in connection with Martinez' death, the Hennepin County Attorney said in the release.

He is being held in Ohio as he awaits extradition back to Minnesota. He hasn't entered a plea. It is unclear whether he has retained an attorney.

Martinez' killing struck a chord in the community, with hundreds turning out on Saturday for a vigil honoring her life, Fox 9reports.

"She was just a really, really bright kid," Romero said, Fox9 reports. "She had no bad bone in her body. She just wanted to support her family."

Her family has started two GoFundMe campaigns to raise money to have Martinez' body flown back to Mexico so that her parents can hold a funeral for her.