September 22, 2020 (Tuesday)
Los Angeles, California, United States
Juan Carlos Hernández
Alternative Name: Unknown
Missing from: Los Angeles, California, USA
Date Missing: September 22, 2020 (Tuesday)
Taken By: Man (27 year old, Caucasian) and Woman (20 year old, Asian)
Juan was a reliable and friendly young man with a promising future in front of him and a family who loved him dearly.
He was a student at El Camino College in Torrance, CA and was planning to follow in the footsteps of his brother (a USC alumni) by transferring over to USC to study engineering Fall 2021.
Juan was also heavily involved in his local community, contributing to various assistance programs since junior high including the USC Neighborhood Academic Initiative (NAI) and Rundalay (an organization that sponsored charity runs)
His loss is felt strongly by the community, and our thoughts and prayers go out to the family in this difficult time.
Juan had been working at a local medical marijuana dispensary in south LA for approximately six months when he disappeared.
Police reports that he was last seen by a colleague when arriving at his workplace at 3:00p.m. at his workplace (family say it may have been later when he left work). Juan then left work after his shift ended that night around 10:00pm (22:00) on September 22. This has been confirmed based on the text message he sent his mother letting her know he planned to be home soon. Juan was borrowing his mother’s car and was expected to return home directly after work as usual.
Instead, his mother (Yajaira Hernández) was concerned to realize neither he nor the car were there the next morning when they awoke. Leaving without notice is very uncommon for Juan, who usually informed his mother when he was with friends or leaving town. Furthermore, although Juan usually kept his devices charged and on; calls the next morning went directly to his voice mail suggesting the phone was either dead or off.
Although Yajaira immediately began working on filing a missing person’s report; police initially disregarded the case as a potential runaway situation. However, the situation changed on September 24 when her car (2020 Honda Civic) was recovered around 2:30am near the intersection of Figueroa and 64th Street.
Despite being found in a dangerous area, the vehicle was still operational and running, not displaying any signs of damage or forced entry (e.g. car-jacking/ forced doors). People in the area reported that the car had been abandoned there several hours before police arrived.
If this was a robbery, the situation is rather strange.
- The car was new and well-maintained, making it unlikely robbers would have abandoned it later without taking any of the parts or selling it somehow through the black markets.
- Juan’s possessions were all absent (phone, wallet, ID, etc), but his mother’s possessions still remained in the car. She had left her money, jewelry, electronic devices, a fit-bit watch, and work items in the car – all remained.
The distance from where Juan worked to the car’s location was only a few minutes drive (perhaps 5-10 min). If Juan disappeared from his vehicle that night, it would have been there for more than just a few hours before police arrived (and probably would not have been still running). If the vehicle was dumped two days later, it seems the people are familiar enough with the area to return for the drop-off.
The area where the car was abandoned is known for being a questionable location with known prostitution and criminal activities. Consequently, the area has many city-operated security cameras, but police have not announced what they found on those cameras.
Approximately a week after Juan went missing, an unknown person called and attempted to blackmail the family with the promise that Juan would return safely if the family paid (Link). Although police determined the threat was not related to the actual kidnapping; they still requested assistance from the FBI as the case was becoming rapidly more complex.
Recovery and Arrests
In a heartbreaking ending, Juan’s body was recovered by police on November 15 in a shallow grave along Afton Canyon Road in the Mojave Desert, approximately 40 miles north-east of Barstow. Police have ruled his death a homicide.
The trip would have been approximately three hours or more one way and the site is a remote area. Someone may have seen something suspicious along the routes; if you have information you are asked to contact police immediately.
Two people have been arrested in connection with the case including:
- Ethan Kedar Astaphan (27) from San Gabriel, CA – DoB 6/1/1993
- Sonita Heng (20) from Harbor City, CA – DoB 5/10/2000
On Thursday, November 19, police served the couple with search warrants at their homes and then arrested them on suspicion of murder. Ethan is facing one count of murder with a possible sentencing of up to 25 years if convicted. Sonita faces one count of accessory after the fact, with a possible punishment of up to 3 years. Both have had bail set at $10 millions and have returned not-guilty pleadings.
Police have not explained how Sonita and Ethan knew one another or how they were related to Juan. No motive has been revealed, not have they stated what led them to the grave so far from where Juan went missing.
Juan’s mother has reportedly said she does not remember Juan ever mentioning the two before (Link).
They will return to court on December 1 for a preliminary trial which will determine if there is enough evidence for police to proceed against them.
- Date of Birth: October 15, 1998
- Age at Disappearance: 21
- Ethnicity: Hispanic
- Nationality: American
- Gender at Birth: Male
- Hair: Black
- Eye Color: Brown
- Height: 6’2″ (188 cm)
- Weight: 215 lbs (97.5 kg)
Distinguishing Marks or Factors
- White Shorts
- Vans T-Shirt with White ’66’ on the back
- Black & White Checkered Socks
- Black Van Shoes
- Grey Hoodie
- Grey Backpack
- Red Religious Bracelet
If You or Anyone You Know Has Information About The Disappearance or Murder of Juan Hernandez, Please Contact the Los Angeles Police Department at +1 (213) 996-1800 or Crime Stoppers (Link)
- Miranda, J. and Torres, J. (2020) ‘Community rallies behind ailing family of missing engineering student’, ECC Union, 6 October. Link
- Torres, J. (2020) ‘Protest held as family of missing student demands answers from police, local politicians’, ECC Union, 4 November. Link
- LAPD (2020) ‘Missing 21-Year-Old Young Man NR20242ne’, 1 October. Link
- Fox LA (2020) ‘LA City Council votes to create reward fund for info on South LA missing man, 21’, 13 October. Link
- City News Service (2020) ‘Reward to Be Offered After 21-Year-Old South LA Man Missing for Weeks’, NBC Los Angeles, 13 October. Link
- KTLA (2020) ‘2 charged after body of missing college student from South L.A. found buried in Mojave Desert’, 23 November. Link
- Ormseth, M. (2020) ‘Missing community college student found in shallow grave near Barstow’, Los Angeles Times, 19 November. Link
- My News LA (2020) ‘Man Charged With Killing College Student Whose Remains Were Found in Mojave’, 23 November. Link
- My News LA (2020) ‘Grisly Remains Of College Student Found In Mojave Desert: Suspect Charged After Victim Left Pot Store’, 23 November. Link