The details shared in social media messages mapping out a high school Spanish teacher’s killing were unambiguous, prosecutors say.
An acquaintance of the teenager provided investigators the online messages, as well as other communications implicating a second 16-year-old student, authorities said. Now the two suspects, both students at Fairfield High School, are charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder.
They both were charged as adults “based on the circumstances and their ages,” Fairfield city officials said in a statement. The Washington Post is not naming the students because they are juveniles.
One of the teenagers is represented by the state public defender’s office, which did not immediately respond to a phone call. Christine Branstad, an attorney for the other student, said her client’s family sends their sympathies to Graber’s family.
“Our judicial process takes time but is effective at revealing the true stories,” Branstad told The Post. “We ask that the public have patience in that process.”
The killing has unnerved Fairfield, a town of about 9,400 people about 95 miles southeast of Des Moines. The school district dismissed students early Thursday, canceled classes Friday, and made the high school available for staff and students to meet with counselors. On Facebook, tributes described Graber as “a bright light” and “a resilient woman of strength, faith, family and education.”
Graber’s daughter, Nohema Marie Graber, said her mother was “an absolute angel” who had roots in Mexico and instilled in her children a love of travel and languages.
“We had the wonderful fortune of growing up in a home filled with such an abundance of warmth and love,” the younger Graber wrote on Facebook. “I will miss her loud laugh and dancing with her to any music that was playing, she had so much joy in her eyes and such a deep sense of faith.”
Graber’s body was found in Chautauqua City Park on Wednesday, hours after her family reported her missing. Graber, who had taught at the high school since 2012, was known to routinely stroll through the park in the afternoon.
Her body was found under a tarp, wheelbarrow and railroad ties — rectangular supports used on tracks — according to the complaint. Prosecutors wrote that Graber appeared to have suffered head trauma.
After executing search warrants at both teens’ homes, investigators said they found several pieces of clothing that appeared to have blood on them. They said they also talked to someone who claimed to have seen the teenagers in the park Tuesday afternoon — spotting one of the boys wearing bloody clothing.
Prosecutors say the other teenager admitted in an interview to being in the park at the time of the killing, providing materials and helping to hide the attack. Court records do not indicate a suspected motive.
Neither student has entered a plea in their cases, court documents show. Both are being held on a $1 million bond pending hearings Nov. 12.
Laurie Noll, superintendent of Fairfield Community School District, said Graber had touched many lives in her time at the school.
“We extend our deepest condolences to the family, friends, and loved ones of Mrs. Graber. At this time our students’ and staffs’ well-being is our top priority,” Noll said in a statement. “As a community, we will remain united in this time of tragedy.”
Nohema Marie Graber and her brother, Christian Graber, wrote that they forgave the teenagers accused of killing their mother.
“There’s no point in being angry at them,” Christian Graber wrote. “We should hope that they can find peace in their lives.”
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