A Florida ex-assistant principal has been arrested and charged in connection with the murder of a popular teacher and test proctor.
Ernest Joseph Roberts, 39, was taken into custody Friday and charged with first-degree murder in the death of 41-year-old single mother of two Kameela Russell, a test administrator at Miami Norland Senior High School.
Russell was last seen in her aunt’s driveway in her black Audi in Miami Gardens on May 15. Her body was found 10 days later floating in a canal near the home of Roberts, a former assistant principal of Miami Norland Senior High School who had recently been transferred to Linda Lentin K-8 Center.
The medical examiner concluded that Russell’s death was a homicide due to blunt force trauma to the head.
A motive for the killing is unclear.
“We know that this arrest has been very difficult on Kameela Russell’s family, because they’ve been family for years, they considered him part of their family,” Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said at a news conference Friday, NBC6 reports. “Since childhood they’ve all been together.”
Investigators focused on Roberts, who is the godfather of Russell’s two daughters and had known her since childhood, after the police department received several anonymous tips “suggesting” that he was involved in her disappearance, according to a Miami Gardens Police Department search warrant obtained by PEOPLE.
Investigators learned that Roberts had contacted a co-worker at Linda Lentin K-8 Center on May 20 and “directed [him] to go to a specific file cabinet inside of conference room 908,” according to the warrant.
Inside the cabinet was a set of keys to an Audi and a note that read: “Do you know anyone that can chop up a car? If so or make it ‘disappear’ take these keys. Its behind the speedway racetrack on 441 by County line. Friends are gone and need it to disappear. If not leave it + I’ll work it out later. Throw this note away!”
During the conversation, Roberts allegedly told the co-worker that he “did something crazy,” stating that he had confronted an intruder inside his mother’s house, hit him with a baseball bat, killing him, wrapped up his body in a tarp and then dragged the body through the house leaving blood stains.
Roberts allegedly asked the co-worker if he knew how to get rid of blood stains.
According to the search warrant, Roberts allegedly acknowledged “the vehicle referenced in the handwritten note” in a call police secretly taped between the co-worker and Roberts.
On May 20, police searched Roberts’ Miami Gardens home and found traces of blood in the master bedroom and “extensive evidence of efforts to clean up the residence,” the arrest warrant states.
“The smell of bleach was prevalent throughout the residence” according to the warrant. “Detectives were also able to locate a mop in the residence which had a strong smell of bleach and came back positive for the presence of blood as indicated by luminol.”
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Investigators also found bloody sandals and an Amazon box with blood splatter, the warrant states.
The blood was later matched to Russell.
Russell’s body was discovered five days after the police search on May 25. She was found floating in a canal in the Coconut Cay Community where Roberts lived.
According to the warrant, police also discovered surveillance camera footage of Russell arriving at Roberts’ home in her black Audi around 6 p.m. on the day of her disappearance.
The footage allegedly shows Roberts entering Russell’s Audi 54 minutes later and driving it close to the front door of his home.
“He is captured on surveillance footage coming in and out of the residence and toward the trunk of the Audi several times,” the warrant states. “At no time is [Russell] ever seen exiting [Roberts’] residence.”
Roberts is later seen driving off in the Audi by himself and returning on foot.
A bond hearing is scheduled for Saturday. It is unclear if Roberts has retained an attorney.
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