A southeast Iowa town is reeling after two high school students were charged with first-degree murder in the death of a Spanish teacher who taught at their school.
Police confirmed Thursday that human remains discovered Wednesday in Fairfield’s Chautauqua Park were those of Nohema Graber, who had been reported missing earlier in the day, according to a news release from the city of Fairfield posted on Facebook.
Graber, 66, had taught Spanish at Fairfield High School since 2012. Police allege two students at the high school — Willard Noble Chaiden Miller, 16, and Jeremy Everett Goodale, 16 — are responsible for her death.
Both have been charged with first-degree homicide and first-degree conspiracy to commit homicide and will be charged as adults “based on the circumstances and their ages,” according to the news release.
Fairfield students were dismissed from classes early Thursday, and classes were canceled Friday.
According to a criminal complaint, investigators say Graber was last known to be at Chautauqua Park on Tuesday — she’d frequently walk in the park in the afternoon.
Police say they found her body Wednesday in the park under a tarp, wheelbarrow and railroad ties. Detectives wrote that their preliminary investigation indicated Graber suffered “inflicted trauma to the head.”
Police received a tip that Goodale posted details about planning the killing and a possible motive on social media, according to court documents. The court filings did not detail the possible motive.
A search warrant at the suspects’ homes uncovered clothing items that appeared to have blood on them, police said.
In an interview with the Des Moines Register, which is part of the USA TODAY Network, Jefferson County Attorney Chauncey Moulding called the case tragic, but declined to provide further specifics to protect the integrity of the ongoing investigation.
Those who know Graber say she was a leader in Fairfield’s Latino community. And, they say, her love for her family, community and students was fierce.
“All the things she still wanted to do …” said 55-year-old Edith Cabrera, a Fairfield resident who said Thursday she’s been friends with Graber since 2005.
“She was an exceptional person, a lovely person,” Cabrera said. “Especially with her family, even with her students.”
Graber’s death has left community members in shock and grief as they struggle to find answers, Cabrera said.
“We don’t know exactly what happened. Why?” Cabrera asked. “She was a great friend, a great community leader, and an even better person.”
Laurie Noll, the Fairfield Community School District’s superintendent, said in a statement Thursday, “In her nine years with Fairfield High School, Mrs. Graber touched the lives of many students, parents and staff.”
Noll said the high school will remain open for students who need to meet with school counselors, a crisis response team or pastoral care.
“We extend our deepest condolences to the family, friends and loved ones of Mrs. Graber. At this time, our students’ and staff’s well-being is our top priority. As a community, we will remain united in this time of tragedy,” Noll wrote.
The president of the Iowa State Education Association, Mike Beranek, also expressed heartbreak over Graber’s killing Thursday afternoon.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to her family, friends and her colleagues … An act like this is unspeakable, and we are torn that one of our education family is a victim to such a senseless act,” Beranek wrote in a statement.
“Every day, educators work tirelessly to protect the students in their care. With full hearts and deep commitment, educators have been the backbone of our state and our nation during this unprecedented time. We cannot understand this, or any violence aimed at such guardians.”