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updated: 2/4/2013 1:46 PM

3 charged in fatal hammer attack on W. Aurora high schooler

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  • Juan Garnica Jr.

    Juan Garnica Jr.

  • Enrique Prado

    Enrique Prado

  • Jose Becerra

    Jose Becerra


Police have charged three men in connection with the murder of an 18-year-old woman who was a senior at West Aurora High School, officials said Sunday night.

Abigail Villalpando, 18, of Aurora, was found burned beyond recognition by the Kane County Sheriff's Department K-9 unit around 9 a.m. Saturday in a wooded area just inside the Village of Montgomery in the area of Fifth Street and Wabansia Avenue, according to a release from the police department.

She had been reported missing by her family around 2:30 a.m. Friday after she failed to show up for work Thursday afternoon. Her empty car, a 2003 Nissan Altima, was found engulfed in flames beneath the High Street bridge at the Burlington Northern Railroad tracks on the city's near east side around 10:40 a.m. Friday, police said.

The Kane County coroner was able to positively identify her through dental records Sunday during an autopsy. The coroner's office said the preliminary cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head.

Villalpando was last seen by the family member who reported her missing around 1 p.m. Thursday when she left home headed for her job. A co-worker called Villalpando's home about 5 p.m. saying she never showed up for work, police said.

Charged in Villalpando's murder are Aurora residents Juan Garnica Jr., 18, of the 400 block of East Ashland Avenue and Enrique Prado, 19, of the 400 block of Jefferson Street; and Oswego resident Jose Becerra, 20, of the 0-99 block of Seaton Creek Drive.

At 5:30 p.m. Sunday, the Kane County state's attorney authorized charging Garnica with two counts of first-degree murder and one count of arson; Prado with single counts of arson and concealment of a homicide; and Becerra with one count of concealment of a homicide.

During this weekend's investigation, Aurora police said they learned Villalpando went to visit Garnica and Prado, both of whom she knew, at Prado's home shortly after leaving her residence.

It was during that meeting that police say Garnica hit Villalpando several times in the head with a hammer after Prado left the room. It is not clear why Garnica started beating the victim, police said. He then stuffed the girl's body into a container and hid it in Prado's garage, police said.

During the overnight hours on Thursday, police say Garnica drove Villalpando's vehicle to the area where it was found torched. Police said he met Prado around 9 a.m. Friday and the two went to a downtown gas station and filled a can with gasoline.

Police said Garnica set the vehicle on fire and ran back to Prado's house. He then burned Villalpando's body in a barrel in the backyard and enlisted Becerra's help in dumping the body at the location where it was found, police said.

Police spokesman Dan Ferrelli said investigators have recovered several pieces of evidence but cannot elaborate. Detectives have not yet established a definitive motive, he said.

Kane County sheriff's deputies and officers from the Montgomery Police Department assisted in the investigation.

All three men are scheduled for Monday morning video bond calls in front of a Kane County judge.

West Aurora High School Community Relations Director Mike Chapin confirmed that Villalpando was a senior at the school and had just transfered there from East Aurora High School in December.

"It's a horrible story," Chapin said. "It's going to be difficult for the people who knew her and all of us at West to cope."

Chapin said the school's crisis team of psychologists and social workers will be on hand to talk to students who need it on Monday.

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