Missing NJ kindergarten teacher Luz Hernandez’s death ruled homicide

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The death of a missing New Jersey kindergarten teacher whose body was found in a shallow grave Tuesday was ruled a homicide by prosecutors Thursday. 

Luz Hernandez,33, was reported missing Monday. Hudson County, New Jersey Prosecutor Esther Suarez confirmed on Friday that one man has been arrested in connection with her death, and an arrest warrant has been issued for another. 

Authorities discovered her buried body in Kearny, New Jersey Tuesday just miles from her Jersey City home. An autopsy conducted by the medical examiner’s office Thursday found Hernandez died from blows to the head and strangulation, Suarez said in a news release. 

Cesar Santana, 36, and Leiner Miranda Lopez, 26, both from Jersey City, have each been charged with one count of desecrating/concealing human remains, Suarez’s office confirmed. 

Santana was arrested at a motel in Miami in the early hours of Friday morning. He is being detained in Florida pending extradition to New Jersey. 

Officials urged anyone with information about Lopez to contact the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office.  

A missing-person report was filed Monday after Hernandez, the mother of three children, she didn’t show up to work

Lopez and Santana were stopped by police Sunday in Kearny before Hernandez was reported missing, Suarez’s office confirmed. The vehicle was not registered and impounded by officials in the New Jersey city. 

Hernandez ‘loved by her students’

Hernandez taught kindergarten at BelovED Community Charter School in Jersey City

Following the news of her death, classes were canceled on Wednesday.

Bret Schundler, a consultant to the board and the leadership of the school, told USA TODAY Hernandez started as a teacher’s assistant at the school in 2017, before becoming a lead teacher.  

She “loved the kids” and did “a wonderful job.”  

“Kids can tell when you care about them, and when you love them, they love you. And she was someone who was loved by her students,” calling her “the kind of person who cared about others.”  

Schundler said the school community was “devastated” after learning of her death. Counselors have been available for students and staff.  

He added that the school is “going to try to do everything we can to show (her family) that they’re loved and try to provide all of the support.” The school is planning to hold a memorial event. 

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