Two people were arrested Thursday on suspicion of murder after the body of a missing man from South Los Angeles was discovered in a shallow grave in the San Bernardino County desert, officials said.
Juan Hernandez, 21, was last seen Sept. 22 when he left home for his job at VIP Collective, a cannabis dispensary in South L.A. His family reported him missing after he didn’t return from work that night.
His mother, Yajaira Hernandez, previously told KTLA the dispensary’s security guards said they parted ways with her son when they closed up the shop at 10 p.m.
Yajaira Hernandez described her son as smart and kind, with a “great personality.”
Within a week of his disappearance, someone tried to extort money from the family for his safe return, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.
LAPD says it led them to determine Hernandez was most likely the victim of a crime, and detectives enlisted the FBI’s help in the case.
On Nov. 15, Hernandez’s remains were found in a shallow grave along Afton Canyon Road east of Interstate 15, between Barstow and Baker, with the help of San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies.
San Bernardino County coroner’s officials identified the remains as Hernandez’s and determined he was the victim of a homicide.
Two persons of interest in the case — Ethan Astaphan, 27, and 20-year-old Sonita Heng — were identified as homicide suspects, according to LAPD.
On Thursday, LAPD detectives and SWAT officers served search warrants at Astaphan and Heng’s residences, and both were subsequently booked on suspicion of murder, officials said.
Authorities did not provide details on whether the suspects knew Hernandez, or comment on a possible motive in the case.
Inmate records showed both Astaphan and Heng remained in custody Thursday night on $10 million bail.