Former assistant principal charged in killing teacher appears in court

Ernest Roberts accused of killing Kameela Russell last month

By Amanda Batchelor - Senior Digital Editor, Ian Margol - Reporter

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. - The suspect in the alleged murder of a Miami-Dade teacher appeared in court Saturday morning and was given no bond.

Former Miami Norland Senior High School Assistant Principal Ernest Joseph Roberts was in bond court following his arrest Friday on charges of killing Kameela Russell.

Roberts, 39, appeared for just a minute while being told he would not be getting out of jail. He is charged with first-degree murder in the death of the educator, who was most recently assigned as a test proctor at the school. 

Authorities said Russell's body was found floating in a canal near Roberts' home on May 25.

"Knowing her and the type of person she was, I just don't understand it. I don't understand it at all," Russell's mother, Linda Russell, told Local 10 News last month.

Former Miami Norland Senior High School Assistant Principal Ernest Roberts posted a photo on social media of him and Kameela Russell after her body was found in Miami Gardens.

Police said Kameela Russell had last been seen May 15 in her black Audi A6 in the driveway of her aunt's home, who lives down the street from Roberts. 

According to an arrest warrant, detectives received tips from several people that Roberts might have been involved in Russell's disappearance. 

After her body was found, the medical examiner's office ruled her death a homicide caused by blunt force trauma to both sides of her head.

Roberts posted on social media after the body was found, calling for anyone with information to come forward and to not rely on rumors about the death of a woman he claimed was like a sister to him.

"Kameela was more than my sister. For 20 years she's been at my side," he wrote. "Both our families and close friends know the bond that we've had. If you know her, you know her spirit. The life of the party. Always there to lean on. The pain can't be put into words. It's almost too heavy to handle. Rumors are dangerous. Anyone with facts please reach out. We lost a beautiful mind and a great spirit."

Roberts was transferred to the Linda Lentin K-8 Center in North Miami in February.

According to the arrest warrant, Roberts went to the school in the early morning hours of May 20 prior to leaving on a school trip to Washington, D.C., and then called an employee who was in that day.

Police said Roberts told the employee to open a specific cabinet in a classroom, where he would find a handwritten note and a set of keys for an Audi.

CLICK HERE to read full arrest warrant for Ernest Roberts

The note read: "Do you know anyone that can chop up a car? If so or make it 'disappear' take these keys. It's behind the Speedway Racetrack on 441 by County Line. Friends are gone and need it to disappear. If not leave it and I'll work it out later. Throw this note away!"

The warrant stated that the employee notified police and Russell's car was found parked behind the gas station.

Police said the employee told detectives Roberts had also called him the night Russell disappeared and told him, "I did something crazy."

According to the employee, Roberts claimed he had confronted an intruder inside his mother's home and hit the person with a baseball bat, killing that person.  

He said he then wrapped the body in a tarp and dragged it through the house, leaving bloodstains behind, authorities said.

According to the warrant, Roberts asked the employee how he could get rid of the bloodstains and the employee advised him to use Clorox, although the employee said he thought Roberts was joking. 

The warrant stated that Miami Gardens police obtained a search warrant for Roberts' home, which is owned by his mother, who lives out-of-state, and found several items with traces of blood in the master bedroom, including an Amazon box with blood splatter and bloody sandals that were in the master bathroom.

Police said the home also smelled of bleach and visible streaks of residue from a cleaning product were found inside the master bedroom. 

Surveillance video from a neighbor's home also shows Russell arriving to Roberts' house shortly after she was seen in her car by her aunt, authorities said.

Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said Friday at a news conference that Roberts had deactivated the surveillance cameras at his own house. 

Police said Russell is never seen leaving Roberts' home, but Roberts is seen entering the victim's car and backing it up toward the front door of his house.

Authorities said he is then seen opening the trunk of the vehicle and coming in and out of the home, toward the Audi, several times before driving away in the vehicle. 

Phone records show Russell and Roberts exchanged calls between 6:01 p.m. and 6:03 p.m. that day -- around the time she was supposed to pick up her daughter from her aunt's house, authorities said. 

Miami-Dade County Public Schools spokeswoman Jaquelyn Calzadilla said in a statement Friday that the district has begun the employment termination process for Roberts.

"Miami-Dade County Public Schools is appalled and saddened after learning of today's arrest in connection to the death of Kameela Russell," the statement read. "Miami-Dade Schools Police has provided any and all assistance requested by the Miami Gardens Police Department in their investigation. Based on preliminary information we received, the District took precautionary measures while the case was being investigated and immediately removed the individual from duty. Following his arrest, the District has initiated the employment termination process. Our prayers and thoughts continue to be with Ms. Russell's family."

Linda Russell is now watching over Kameela Russell's 6-year-old and 15-year-old daughters.

Fernandez-Rundle said Roberts and the victim had known each other since they were children and he is the godfather of both her kids. 

The state attorney said the investigation remains ongoing, as detectives work to determine a motive for the killing. 

Calzadilla confirmed Roberts was hired by the school district in August 2004 and was appointed assistant principal at Miami Norland Senior High School in August 2017. 

She said he has no prior disciplinary history with the school district. 

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