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Crime News

Suspect Arrested In Florida In Connection With NJ Kindergarten Teacher's Murder, Second Suspect Wanted

Investigators are searching for a second suspect following the death of New Jersey teacher Luz Hernandez, whose remains were found in a shallow grave.

By Jax Miller

Officials have announced the identities of two suspects believed to be connected with the murder of a New Jersey Kindergarten teacher.

Luz Hernandez, 33, was reported missing on Monday and found dead in “what appeared to be a shallow grave” the next day, according to the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office. Officials say a postmortem examination revealed the Jersey City woman died of blunt force trauma to the head and compressions to the neck, and the manner of death was determined to be a homicide.

County officials announced Friday that a traffic stop conducted on February 6 helped investigators narrow in on two men wanted in connection to Hernandez’s homicide.

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Cesar Santana, 36, was arrested at a Biscayne Boulevard motel in Miami, Florida, shortly after midnight on Friday, and arrested on second-degree charges of desecrating/concealing human remains. The U.S. Marshals Service - Southern District of Florida and the U.S. Marshals Service - New York/New Jersey Regional Fugitive Task Force were on the scene.

The second suspect, Leiner Miranda Lopez, 26, who is also from Jersey City and faces the same charges, has yet to be apprehended.

No one has been charged with Hernandez’s murder.

Santana is reportedly the victim’s ex-boyfriend and father of their three children, according to NJ.com. Friends told the outlet that the pair had been together since high school but separated sometime last year.

A police handout of Luz Hernandez

Officials have not alluded to a motive. However, the victim’s sister alleged in a GoFundMe page created for a children’s scholarship in Hernandez’s honor that “Luz was a victim of domestic violence.”

Hernandez’s colleagues filed a missing persons report on Monday, when the teacher and mother-of-three failed to show up at the BelovED Community Charter School in Jersey City. On Tuesday, as part of their investigation, the Jersey City Police Department searched the missing woman’s residence, where “a crime scene was located,” according to officials.

“Blood splatters” were reportedly found on the door of Hernandez’s Van Horne Street apartment, per the Jersey Journal.

“The findings resulted in the Jersey City Police Department contacting the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office for assistance, and Cesar Santana was identified as a person of interest in the matter,” said officials.

The Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office did not release how they zeroed in on the suspect. However, police in Kearny — just a few miles northwest across the Hackensack River — contacted the prosecutor's office and alerted them to a traffic stop on Sunday, just one day before Hernandez was reported missing.

Both Santana and Lopez were occupants of the vehicle when Kearny police stopped them on Central Avenue.

“The vehicle was unregistered and impounded by the Kearny Police Department,” according to the recent release. “A court-authorized search of the vehicle was executed on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023, and additional evidence was recovered.”

The Kearny Police Department, “knowing details of the traffic stop,” led investigators to the area of Central Avenue and Third Street, thus leading them to Hernandez’s body “a short time later,” just before 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday.

Santana is being held at the Miami-Dade Turner Guilford Detention Center on fugitive charges pending extradition to New Jersey.

Officials say Leiner Miranda Lopez “has not been apprehended” and are asking the public for information that can lead to his arrest.

Anyone with information can contact the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office at 1-201-915-1345.