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updated: 4/20/2017 6:28 PM

Neighbor charged in Schaumburg strangulation

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  • Video: Arrest in Schaumburg murder

  • Bulmaro Mejia-Maya has been arrested in connection with the strangulation death of Tiffany Thrasher of Schaumburg. This picture of him was from the Salt Lake County jail.

    Bulmaro Mejia-Maya has been arrested in connection with the strangulation death of Tiffany Thrasher of Schaumburg. This picture of him was from the Salt Lake County jail.
    Courtesy of Schaumburg police

  • Schaumburg police Cmdr. Kurt Metzger speaks at a news conference Thursday to announce the arrest of Bulmaro Mejia-Maya, pictured at right. Police Lt. Michael DeGiulio is at the left.

      Schaumburg police Cmdr. Kurt Metzger speaks at a news conference Thursday to announce the arrest of Bulmaro Mejia-Maya, pictured at right. Police Lt. Michael DeGiulio is at the left.
    Jeff Knox | Staff Photographer

  • Schaumburg detective Cmdr. Kurt Metzger, left, and spokeswoman Sgt. Christy Lindhurst brief the media Thursday on the arrest of Bulmaro Mejia-Maya in connection with the strangulation of Tiffany Thrasher.

      Schaumburg detective Cmdr. Kurt Metzger, left, and spokeswoman Sgt. Christy Lindhurst brief the media Thursday on the arrest of Bulmaro Mejia-Maya in connection with the strangulation of Tiffany Thrasher.
    Jeff Knox | Staff Photographer

  • Family and friends of Tiffany Thrasher on Thursday began moving her belongings out of the Schaumburg apartment where she was murdered five days before.

      Family and friends of Tiffany Thrasher on Thursday began moving her belongings out of the Schaumburg apartment where she was murdered five days before.
    Jake Griffin | Staff Photographer

  • Schaumburg police said Tiffany Thrasher's killer lived across this courtyard in a unit at left, which looks out onto Thrasher's unit and patio at bottom right.

      Schaumburg police said Tiffany Thrasher's killer lived across this courtyard in a unit at left, which looks out onto Thrasher's unit and patio at bottom right.
    Jake Griffin | Staff Photographer

 
 

A construction worker who lived steps from Tiffany Thrasher's apartment in Schaumburg is accused of sexually assaulting and strangling her in the hours before she was to attend an Easter Sunday service, authorities said Thursday.

Bulmaro Mejia-Maya, a 29-year-old man with a violent criminal past, is charged with first-degree murder, aggravated criminal sexual assault and home invasion, police announced during a news conference.

U.S. marshals arrested Mejia-Maya in Jacksonville, Florida, where he appeared for an extradition hearing Thursday afternoon, police said.

Mejia-Maya waived extradition and will be brought back to Cook County at some time before May 4, police said. No further information about his extradition travel was available.

After the news conference, Thrasher's family released a statement through a GoFundMe page dedicated to her funeral costs.

"Our family is devastated by the additional details regarding this heinous act," it said. "Words cannot express our pain and suffering."

A cadre of Thrasher's family and friends had begun moving her belongings out of the apartment on Clipper Drive. They asked for privacy but thanked Schaumburg police and other agencies investigating Thrasher's death, saying, "We can now begin to grieve knowing that justice will be served."

The investigation is not over, and questions about motives for the violent crime remain.

Investigators interviewed Thrasher's family, friends, co-workers and neighbors, and gathered more than 200 pieces of evidence. They targeted Mejia-Maya as a suspect by Tuesday afternoon and learned he may have fled to Jacksonville, detective Cmdr. Kurt Metzger said during the news conference.

Schaumburg detectives went to Jacksonville to interview him Wednesday night, police said.

"He has made incriminating statements," Metzger said.

Police had not determined if Mejia-Maya knew Thrasher nor whether he'd stalked or approached her. A thin swath of grass about 50 feet wide separated the victim's unit from Mejia-Maya's. He had lived in the apartment about six months, police said.

"It's possible their paths may have crossed through the proximity of the buildings," Schaumburg police spokeswoman Sgt. Christy Lindhurst said.

Police believe Mejia-Maya entered Thrasher's apartment through an unlocked ground-level window. They hadn't determined whether he waited in the apartment or surprised her by his entrance.

Tiffany Thrasher, 33, was found strangled in her Schaumburg apartment on Easter.
Tiffany Thrasher, 33, was found strangled in her Schaumburg apartment on Easter. - Courtesy of Heath King

The 33-year-old Thrasher was found dead after members of her church, Living Hope Church in Elk Grove Village, became concerned when she missed the Easter Sunday morning service, where she was supposed to sing. They asked police to check on her. Officers entered the apartment and found her body.

"There was clear indications that this was an intentional act, and a criminal investigation was immediately started," Metzger said.

An autopsy and other evidence showed Thrasher had been strangled and sexually assaulted.

Joe Person, who lives in the same building as Mejia-Maya once did, said the suspect and his roommates often congregated on the sidewalk outside the building, drinking beer and listening to music well into the night. Person pointed to the bottle caps strewed about the parking lot where the men used to gather.

"We haven't seen them since Saturday," Person said. "I thought it was weird. They were always out here. I didn't like my (10-year-old) daughter walking by them when she took out the garbage, so I made her go around the building to stay away from them."

Mejia-Maya, also known as Mario Mejia, has a criminal record in several states. He's listed as a citizen of Mexico on the Jacksonville police report, and records show he had a green card when he was arrested in May 2012 in Florida. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement would not comment on his current residency.

He has an active warrant for his arrest on a charge of failure to appear in court after a May 2016 arrest in Utah on misdemeanor drug charges, according to court records there.

Mejia-Maya was arrested after police were called to quiet a loud house party. The arrest report states Mejia-Maya was seen wiping "white powder" from a counter that eventually tested positive as cocaine.

He was arrested in May 2012 for stabbing a man during a fight at a house party near Orlando, Florida. The victim spent two days in the hospital before being released. Witnesses said Mejia-Maya attacked the victim with a knife that was eventually recovered by police. Mejia-Maya claimed self-defense but changed his story multiple times during the interrogation, according to court records.

Initially charged with a felony count of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, Mejia-Maya pleaded guilty in April 2013 to misdemeanor battery and was sentenced to the 117 days in jail he had already served plus fines.

Thrasher, who worked as a mortgage loan originator for PNC Bank, was described by a longtime friend as an "uplifting, positive person," who had seen her life on an upward path in the 10 years since she had settled in the Chicago area near her sister.

During that time, Thrasher had found God and a deep love of Chicago sports -- particularly the Cubs.

• Daily Herald staff writers Eric Peterson and Lauren Rohr contributed to this report.

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