One Suspect Arrested, Another Sought in Slaying of N.J. Kindergarten Teacher Found Dead in Shallow Grave

Though neither man has been charged with homicide, authorities in New Jersey said additional charges are expected in connection with the death of 33-year-old Luz Hernandez

Luz Hernandez, One Arrested, Second Sought in Slaying of NJ Kindergarten Teacher Found Dead in Shallow Grave
Luz Hernandez. Photo: Luz Hernandez/Facebook

Authorities have arrested one suspect and are still looking for another in connection with the death of Luz Hernandez, a beloved kindergarten teacher and mom whose body was discovered buried in a shallow grave the day after she failed to show up for work.

Cesar Santana, 36, of Jersey City, N.J., has been charged with one count of desecrating/concealing human remains, according to a press release from the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office. He was captured on Feb. 10 at a motel in Miami, Fla. He is being held at the Miami-Dade Turner Guilford Night Detention Center pending extradition to N.J.

Another suspect, Leiner Miranda Lopez, 26, also of Jersey City, is still at large and has a warrant for his arrest on the same charge as Santana. Though neither man has been charged with homicide, the prosecutor's office said additional charges are expected. Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez has released the following information: One man has been arrested and an arrest warrant has been issued for another in connection with the death investigation of Luz Hernandez, 33, of Jersey City, who was found deceased in Kearny. Cesar Santana, 36, and Leiner Miranda Lopez, 26, both of Jersey City, are each charged with one count of Desecrating/Concealing Human Remains in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:22-1, a crime of the second degree. Santana was arrested shortly after midnight on Friday, February 10, 2023, at a motel on Biscayne Boulevard in Miami, Florida, by members of the United States Marshals Service Southern District of Florida, in conjunction with the United States Marshals Service New York/New Jersey Regional Fugitive Task Force. He is being detained at the Miami-Dade Turner Guilford Night Detention Center as a Fugitive from Justice pending extradition to New Jersey. Credit: Hudson County Prosecutor's Office
Cesar Santana (left) and Leiner Miranda Lopez. Hudson County Prosecutor's Office

It was not immediately clear if the men had attorneys to speak on their behalf.

Hernandez, a teacher at BelovED Charter School in Jersey City, was found dead on Feb. 7 in "what appeared to be a shallow grave" in Kearny, according to loved ones and authorities. The 33-year-old educator was reported missing to police on Feb. 6 when she didn't show up for work, NJ Advance Media reported.

Hernandez died of blunt force trauma to the head and compressions to the neck, and her manner of death was ruled a homicide, according to the prosecutor's office.

According to NBC New York, Hernandez's family said that Santana is her ex-boyfriend and the father of her three children. Authorities have yet to reveal the relationship between the victim and the suspects as well as possible motive.

Santana was identified as a person of interest while officers conducted a welfare check at Hernandez's home on Feb. 6, authorities said.

Investigators learned that Santana and Lopez were stopped by police on Feb. 5 in Kearny, one day before Hernandez was reported missing, according to prosecutors. Their vehicle was unregistered and local police impounded it.

On Feb. 7, a court authorized search warrant was executed on the car, and additional evidence was recovered.

Knowing the details of the traffic stop, Kearny police led members of the prosecutor's office's homicide unit to the area of the traffic stop, where the shallow grave was found and Hernandez's body was recovered, the release states.

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After learning of the tragedy, Hernandez's loved ones launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for a scholarship fund for her children.

Born in the Dominican Republic, Hernandez came to the U.S. when she was 5, and was "a devoted mother and daughter who loved working with children," according to the fundraiser. She was set to receive her Master's degree in education from St. Peter's College in May.

Authorities said the investigation remains active and ongoing.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office at 201-915-1345 or to leave an anonymous tip here.

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