Olympic Boxer Félix Verdejo Accused of Killing Pregnant Girlfriend, Who Was Found Dead in Lagoon
An Olympic boxer is in jail accused of kidnapping and killing his pregnant girlfriend, whose death in Puerto Rico fueled a protest on the island where a state of emergency is in place after a rise of violence against women.
Félix Verdejo Sánchez, 27, who competed for Puerto Rico in the 2012 Olympic Games in London, was arrested Sunday, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Puerto Rico said in a statement obtained by PEOPLE.
The victim, Keishla Rodríguez Ortiz, was nearly two months pregnant and had told her mother Thursday morning that she was planning to meet that day with Verdejo to discuss the news, before she failed to arrive for work and disappeared, reports The Washington Post.
The married boxer allegedly "had threatened her before to not have the baby, to get an abortion [because] he has his family, he is a boxer [and] a public figure," Rodríguez's mother, Keila Ortiz Rivera, told El Nuevo Día in Spanish, reports the Post.
An unidentified witness "with firsthand, personal knowledge" said Verdejo contacted him before the boxer met with Rodríguez, requesting "his help to terminate the pregnancy," according to a criminal complaint, reports The New York Times.
According to the witness, Rodríguez and Verdejo allegedly were together in Verdejo's SUV on Thursday night when Verdejo punched her in the face and the woman "was injected with a syringe filled with substances," which the complaint did not identify.
Verdejo and the witness then allegedly used wire to bind Rodríguez's hands and feet, tied a block to her, used Rodríguez's vehicle to ferry her body to a bridge over the San Juan Lagoon, and tossed her into the water, after which Verdejo fired a pistol at her, the complaint alleges.
Her body was found Saturday in the lagoon and identified through dental records, according to the Times, which cites a report from the island's Institute of Forensic Science.
Cell phone and location mapping data revealed that Verdejo was near Rodríguez on Thursday, and corroborated the witness account, the complaint states.
Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Sign up for PEOPLE's free True Crime newsletter for breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases.
Verdejo turned himself in to authorities on Sunday night. He is charged with kidnapping resulting in death, carjacking resulting in death, and intentionally killing an unborn child, according to the U.S. Attorney's statement.
The kidnapping and carjacking charges carry a maximum penalty of death, with a maximum of life in prison for the intentional killing of an unborn child.
An attorney for Verdejo, Jose F. Irizarry-Perez, told NBC News on Monday that neither he nor his client were available to comment.
The victim's cause of death has not been released.
Responding to a rise in murders and assaults against women, Puerto Rico's governor in January declared a state of emergency for gender violence in the U.S. territory, drawing attention to what he described as "the consequences of systematic machismo, inequity, discrimination, lack of education, lack of guidance and above all, lack of action."
"Gender violence is a social evil, based on ignorance and attitudes that cannot have space or tolerance in the Puerto Rico that we aspire to," Gov. Pedro Pierluisi said in a news release. "It is my duty and my commitment as governor to establish a STOP to gender violence and for these purposes I have declared a state of emergency."
More than 1 in 4 women in the Caribbean and Latin America experience intimate partner violence in their lifetimes, according to a recent study by the Organization for Economic Cooperative and Development, reports The Miami Herald. A watchdog group, the Observatory for Gender Equality, counted 60 femicides in Puerto Rico last year — a 62 percent increase from the previous year.
Verdejo is being held in jail without bond.