Missing kindergarten teacher’s body found in shallow grave, New Jersey officials say

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The death of a missing kindergarten teacher is considered “suspicious” after her body was found in a shallow grave in northern New Jersey, according to officials.

Luz Hernandez, 33, was found dead in Kearny at 4:53 p.m. on Feb. 7, one day after she was reported missing, according to a news release from the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office.

She never arrived for work at BelovED Community Charter School in Jersey City, where she taught kindergarten, on Feb. 6, the school’s founder Bret Schundler told McClatchy News on Feb. 8.

Now the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office Homicide Unit is investigating her death, according to the release. There have been no arrests as of Feb. 8.

It was surprising to school staff when Hernandez didn’t call in advance about her absence on Feb. 6, according to Schundler, who described Hernandez as a “very conscientious person” and “beloved” staff member. As a result, the school contacted her family and the family told police she was missing, he said.

“We’re a close-knit community and a lot of people care about Luz greatly,” Schundler said. “I think a lot of people are pretty shaken up.”

Hernandez has three children, including two who attend the charter school, which was closed down on Feb. 8 over her death, according to Schundler.

On Feb. 7, Jersey City police performed a welfare check due to Hernandez’s disappearance before reaching out to the prosecutor’s office for help, according to the release.

Afterward, Hernandez’s body was found about 3 miles away in the grave in Kearny, where she was declared dead, authorities said.

Her cause of death is pending and will be determined by a medical examiner, according to the release.

Families of the school community were notified of Hernandez’s death, and grief counselors were made available at the school on Feb. 8, Schundler said. Grief counselors will also be at the school on Feb. 9 when students will be back.

Hernandez started working at the school as a teaching assistant for the 2017-2018 school year before she became a kindergarten teacher in 2021, according to Schundler. He described her as an “exceptional” teacher.

“A lot of conversations are taking place right now about how we can provide support for the children and the family,” he added.

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