A former high school assistant principal has been arrested and charged with killing Kameela Russell, a single mother from Miami Gardens whose body was found in a canal after she went missing for nearly two weeks, authorities said.
Detectives arrested 39-year-old Ernest Joseph Roberts early Friday on a first-degree murder charge, according to an arrest warrant.
Roberts, who once worked at Miami Norland Senior High School with Russell, had been transferred to Linda Lentin K-8 Center about seven months before her disappearance, the warrant said.
Two days after Russell's disappearance on May 15, detectives received several anonymous phone calls suggesting Roberts may be involved, the warrant said. Russell and Roberts have known each other since they were children and Roberts is the godfather of Russell's two daughters, the warrant said.
"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 attended by Russell's mother and aunt. "Since childhood they've all been together."
According to the warrant, on May 20, Roberts left a handwritten note for an employee of Linda Lentin asking if they know "anyone that can chop up a car" or "make it disappear."
"It's 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!" the note read, according to the warrant.
Police went to the gas station and located the car, which was Russell's, the warrant said.
The employee also told detectives Roberts had called them and said "I did something crazy," the warrant said. Roberts then told the employee that he had confronted an intruder in his mother's house and hit the person with a baseball bat, then wrapped the body in a tarp and dragged it through the house, the warrant said.
Roberts asked the employee how he could get rid of the blood stains, but the employee thought he was kidding, the warrant said.
According to the warrant, detectives found drops of blood at Roberts' mother's home by the front door and in the master bedroom. Bloody sandals were also found in the master bathroom, and an Amazon box with blood splatter was also found, the report said.
"In addition to blood detectives also found extensive evidence of efforts to clean up the residence," the warrant said.
DNA testing later determined that the blood found in the home was Russell's, the warrant said.
Russell's body was found floating in a Miami Gardens canal nearly two weeks after she went missing. The Miami-Dade Medical Examiner’s Office later confirmed the body’s identity as that of 41-year-old Russell, who was last seen May 15 in the 800 block of Northwest 203rd Street at the home of her aunt, not far from Roberts' mother's house.
Russell arrived at the home to pick up her daughter, but never went inside of the home, officials said. She did not show up to work over the course of the next week at Miami Norland Senior High School, where she worked as a test administrator.
The Miami Gardens Police Department pulled a body they said was "badly decomposed" from the canal less than a mile from the scene.
The medical examiner's office said the death has been ruled a homicide as a result of blunt force to the head.
The warrant said surveillance cameras from across the street showed Roberts and Russell at Roberts' mother's home the evening of her disappearance.
Less than an hour after Russell arrived at the home, Roberts is seen in the video backing Russell's car up to the home's front door and opening the trunk, the warrant said. After coming in and out of the home and going to the trunk several times Roberts drives away, the warrant said. He was later seen walking back to the home in the rain.
The warrant said Roberts had disabled the surveillance system at his mother's home the day of her disappearance.
Miami-Dade Schools Police officials said Roberts had been reassigned when he became a person of interest in the case. He has worked for the county since August 2004, and has no prior disciplinary history with the district, officials said.
"Miami-Dade County Public Schools is appalled and saddened after learning of today’s arrest in connection to the death of Kameela Russell. Miami-Dade Schools Police has provided any and all assistance requested by the Miami Gardens Police Department in their investigation," a school spokesperson said in a statement. "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."
Roberts was booked into jail Friday, where he was being held without bond, records showed. Attorney information wasn't available.
"Her loss isn't just a loss for her family, her loss is a loss for everybody," said Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert, who was friends with Russell.