Body of missing student found, 2 suspects arrested


A vigil was held for Juan Carlos Hernández, in Martin Luther King Jr. park on Sunday, Oct. 4. Juan Carlos Hernández went missing on Sept. 22, last seen by a coworker as he got off his work shift. Guests from all walks of Juan’s life were invited as a testament and reminder that the search for him will not stop. (Jaime Solis/ The Union)

The body of Juan Carlos Hernández, a missing student from El Camino College, was found Sunday, Nov. 15, buried in a shallow grave off Interstate 15 near Barstow.

The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) sent out a press release this morning stating Juan Carlos Hernández’s body was found on Nov. 15, with the help of the FBI, San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue Team, and their Sheriff’s Homicide department.

San Bernardino County Coroner’s Office was later able to identify the body as Juan Carlos Hernández, who was last seen on Sept. 22 as he left his job at a dispensary.

The next morning, Yajaira Hernández did not find her son or car at their house, she immediately began filing out a missing person’s report and made flyers, she previously told The Union.

She said LAPD detectives “knew from the beginning that Juan was dead” but could not disclose that information to her as they hadn’t located his body and were working with the FBI.

On Nov. 19, LAPD detectives, along with LAPD Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT), searched the residence of two people suspected to have a connection to the case.

Ethan Astaphan, 27, and Sonita Heng, 20, were arrested that same day and charged with murder, according to the LAPD press release. Both have been set a bail amount of $10 million.

“This was not the outcome that I was hoping for and… even though I’m shattered inside, I’m still blessed that the detectives were able to do their job and that they found my son and, in some form, are giving me closure because I wasn’t ready to stop searching for him,” she said.

Yajaira Hernández said she has been robbed from seeing her son grow up and achieve the goals he had for himself. She laments not getting to see her son grow old, get married and have kids, but she still plans on passing out blankets to the homeless community in Skid Row on Saturday, Nov. 21.

“I have no words to explain the amount of pain my heart has and holes that I won’t be able to hold my son next month for my birthday, that I won’t be able to celebrate the holidays with my son, cook his favorite meals,” she said. “ At this point, there’s nothing I can do about it anymore.”