Man arrested in Miami hotel is suspect in murder of NJ kindergarten teacher

Luz Hernandez, 33, a mother of three and kindergarten teacher, was found dead in a shallow grave in New Jersey on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023. Her estranged husband, Cesar Santana, was arrested Friday at a Miami motel. (GoFundMe/Miami-Dade County Corrections)

MIAMI, Fla. – US Marshals arrested a man in a Miami hotel in connection with the death of a 33-year-old New Jersey kindergarten teacher.

Cesar Santana, 36, of Jersey City, was arrested shortly after midnight on Friday at a motel on Biscayne Boulevard, according to Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez.

Luz Hernandez, a kindergarten teacher from Jersey City, was found in a shallow grave in Kearny, N.J., on Tuesday, Feb. 6, and she was pronounced dead at the scene at 4:53 p.m.

According to ABC 7, Santana is the father of Hernandez’s three children and is her estranged husband; they had reportedly separated only a few months ago. Two of their three children attended the charter school where she taught.

Santana is being held at the Miami-Dade Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center pending extradition to New Jersey. During his first court appearance in Miami on Friday, Feb. 10, he was ordered held at the jail until his extradition hearing on Feb. 27.

Police are still searching for 26-year-old Leiner Miranda Lopez. His connection to Hernandez or Santana was not revealed by the prosecutor’s office.

On Monday, Feb. 6, Hernandez was reported missing to the Jersey City Police Department when she didn’t show up to work at her job at BelovED Charter School.

Santana was identified early in the investigation as a person of interest, according to the prosecutor’s office.

Santana and Miranda Lopez were in an unregistered car when they were stopped on Sunday, Feb. 5, a day before Hernandez was reported missing. The vehicle was impounded by the Kearny, N.J., Police Department. A search of the vehicle on Tuesday, Feb. 7, uncovered additional evidence linking them to Hernandez’s disappearance, according to police.

The Regional Medical Examiner’s Office determined Hernandez’s cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head and compressions to the neck and the manner of death to be homicide.

Miranda Lopez has not yet been apprehended and the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office is asking anyone with information to call (201) 915-1345.

About the Author:

Michelle F. Solomon is a multi-platform producer/reporter for Local10 and is the podcast producer/reporter/host of the station's original, true-crime podcast The Florida Files and producer of's DigiShorts.