LOS ANGELES — A 16-year-old who was part of a search party looking for a missing high school sports star led the group to discover the boy’s body but investigators suspect he was the person who fatally stabbed his longtime friend and left his body in bushes near a riverbed, Los Angeles County sheriff’s detectives said Thursday.
Jeremy Sanchez, 17, was found dead Wednesday afternoon in a riverbed in South El Monte, about 13 miles from downtown Los Angeles, investigators said.
The teen’s father assembled a group of the boy’s close friends to search for him after he didn’t show up for school on Wednesday. The suspect and another friend found Sanchez’s body Wednesday afternoon.
"The person who killed him is the one who said, ‘Look there here is,'" sheriff’s homicide Lt. John Corina said.
Investigators believe the teenage suspect, whose name hasn’t been released because of his age, stabbed Sanchez multiple times and left his body in the wooded area. Detectives are still trying to pin down a motive for the killing but said the two were "very good friends."
Sanchez’s cousin, Briana Amigon, said in a post on GoFundMe that he loved playing sports, was on his high school’s varsity football team and on the wrestling team.
"We have no words to describe the grief that their family is experiencing right now," she wrote.
Edward Zuniga, the superintendent of the El Monte Union High School District, said Sanchez was a popular student athlete and that school officials are still in shock over his death. The school district is offering grief counseling to other students, he said.
"Jeremy was a very respectful kid, very outgoing, and always had a smile on his face," his wrestling coach Ray Castellanos said after visiting a makeshift memorial set up at the riverbed where he was killed. "I’m devastated. It’s not supposed to be this way."
The teenage suspect was arrested early Thursday morning when detectives grew wary of his story after hearing conflicting statements during interviews, Corina said.
“Some things didn’t add up,” he said.
Corina said it was disturbing and out of the ordinary for the suspect to be involved for the search of the friend he allegedly killed.
“This person kills his friend and then acts like, ‘Oh, I’ll go out and try to find him,’” Corina said. “It is almost like he was trying to throw everyone off.”
Detectives obtained a search warrant and raided the teenager’s home early Thursday, where they found evidence that was “very helpful” to the investigation, Corina said. He declined to elaborate on the evidence in the case but said it was enough for detectives book the suspect on a murder charge.
Castellanos, who had also coached the teenager’s father, said Sanchez was a top athlete on the high school’s varsity wrestling team but that he was also dedicated to his schoolwork. He visited the boy’s home on Thursday and said his father shed tears as they hugged for several minutes.
Recalling their last exchange, Castellanos told the teenager not to eat junk food because he wanted him to stay a star athlete.
“He said ‘I’m going to be a champion, coach,’” Castellanos said. “Now he’ll teach the angels in heaven to wrestle.”