Man charged with murder in death of Jersey City kindergarten teacher

Authorities have charged a man with murder in the death of a Jersey City kindergarten teacher, whose body was found earlier this month in a shallow grave in Kearny, the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office announced. 

Cesar Santana, 36, is now charged with first-degree murder, among other charges, in connection with the death of Luz Hernandez, 33. Santana had previously been charged with desecrating/concealing human remains.

Santana was arrested at a motel in Miami on Feb. 10, and extradited back to New Jersey on Feb. 21. He is currently being held at the Hudson County Correctional Facility pending his first court appearance. The matter is being investigated as an act of domestic violence.

Leiner Miranda Lopez, 26, is also charged with desecrating/concealing human remains. Authorities said he has not yet been apprehended. Anyone with information is urged to contact the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office at 201-915-1345.

RELATED: New Jersey kindergarten teacher's body found in shallow grave

Santana is the father of Hernandez's three children.


Cesar Santana, 36, and Leiner Miranda Lopez, 26, are both charged with desecrating/concealing human remains. (Hudson County Prosecutor's Office)

The investigation revealed Santana and Lopez were pulled over Sunday, Feb. 5 on Central Avenue in Kearny prior to Hernandez being reported missing. 

The vehicle was unregistered and impounded by police. They said that additional evidence was recovered, but they didn't disclose what they found.

Timeline of Events

Sunday, Feb. 5

  • Kearny police conducted a traffic stop on Central Avenue of a vehicle occupied by Santana and Lopez.
  • The vehicle was unregistered and impounded.

Monday, Feb. 6

  • A missing person’s report was filed with Jersey City police for 33-year-old Luz Hernandez after she didn't show up for work at a Jersey City charter school.

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Tuesday, Feb. 7

  • Jersey City police conducted a welfare check on Van Horne Street.
  • A crime scene was located and the prosecutor’s office was notified.
  • Santana was identified as a person of interest and a search warrant was executed on the vehicle.
  • Police led the prosecutor’s office to the area of the traffic stop, where a shallow grave was located near Central Avenue and Third Street.
  • The body of Hernandez was discovered.

The body of Luz Hernandez was found in this area of Kearny, New Jersey.


  • An autopsy determined Hernandez died of "blunt force trauma to the head and compressions to the neck."
  • The manner of death was ruled a homicide.

The investigation remains active and ongoing. Additional charges and/or arrests may be expected.

Hernandez was a teacher at the BelovED Community Charter School in Jersey City. Classes were canceled Wednesday.

According to her family, Hernandez and her husband have been separated since November, but still lived in the same home. They shared three children together -- a 2-year-old, as well as a 4th and 6th grader.

The Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office Homicide Unit is actively investigating the case with assistance from the Jersey City Police Department and the Kearny Police Department.

Anyone with information in connection with the case is asked to contact the Office of the Hudson County Prosecutor at 201-915-1345.