A Spanish teacher whose body was found in an Iowa park on Tuesday could have been murdered in a racist attack, a former student has speculated.
Nohema Graber, 66, was a beloved teacher at Fairfield High School, where she had taught since 2012, and was remembered for her kindness.
Two 16-year-old students at the school, Willard Noble Chaiden Miller and Jeremy Everett Goodale, have both been charged as adults for the first-degree murder.
Nohema Graber, 66, disappeared on Tuesday in Fairfield, Iowa. Her body was found the following day and two students at the school where she taught have been charged with her murder
The pair are being held on a $1 million bond each ahead of their next court appearance on November 12.
They are accused of killing Graber in the park where she regularly took an afternoon walk, and then dumping her remains under a wheelbarrow.
Former students were devastated by her killing.
‘I absolutely cannot comprehend why any student would ever want to hurt her,’ said Alyson Reid, a former student.
Reid told NBC she wonders if it might have been racially motivated.
Graber, who was born in Mexico, was a liaison between St. Mary Catholic Church in Fairfield, where she frequented Mass, and the town’s growing Latino enclave.
‘While Mrs. Graber was bilingual and fluent in English, she did struggle with slang and had an accent,’ Reid said.
‘I know some students made fun of her for that.’
Nohema Graber, a 66-year-old Spanish teacher who was born in Mexico and taught in Iowa, was found dead in a park in her hometown of Fairfield on Wednesday
Leaders in Iowa’s Latino communities said they were worried that Graber’s killing was part of a wider pattern.
‘This murder is beyond comprehension on why this would occur,’ said Joe Henry, the state political director for the Latino civil rights organization LULAC of Iowa.
He told the Des Moines Register: ‘We can only assume that the hateful rhetoric that has been promoted over the past five years continues.’
Latinos constitute only six per cent of Iowa’s total population, according to LatinoVoteIowa.org.
Yet the predominantly white state has seen the Hispanic share of its population more than double since 2000, with a 130 percent increase registered between 2000 and 2017.
In August, an Iowa woman, Nicole Poole Franklin, 42, was sentenced to 25 years for hate crimes after trying to run over two children in Des Moines, believing one was Middle Eastern and the other was Mexican.
Police said they had no reason to suspect a racial motivation.
The two boys, Miller and Goodale, had exchanged messages about her killing on social media, investigators said, which is providing insight into the murder.
These are the two 16-year-old boys accused of killing their high school teacher and concealing her corpse in a park in southeast Iowa. Willard Noble Chaiden Miller (left) and Jeremy Everett Goodale, both 16, have been charged as adults with first-degree homicide and conspiracy to commit first-degree homicide
Yet Chauncey Moulding, Jefferson County attorney, said his office would ‘absolutely follow the evidence.’
He added: ‘This case is not, by any means, closed.’
Graber’s son Christian and daughter Nohema Maria both said on Facebook that they had forgiven her alleged murderers.
The suspects’ mugshots were released on Thursday night, with officers saying the pair plotted the murder of Graber as she took one of her regular strolls through Chautauqua Park on Tuesday.
Graber was last seen alive on November 2, was reported missing by her concerned family the next morning, with her remains found under a tarp, wheelbarrow and railroad ties on November 3.
After her remains were recovered, Graber’s son Christian memorialized his mother on Facebook: ‘I’m sorry I can’t respond to the all of the messages’, he wrote, ‘but I’ll just say what I’ve been told. My mother passed away. As I understand it was pre attempted murder by two students. I forgive them and feel sorry that they had that anger in their hearts. There’s no point in being angry at them. We should hope that they can find peace in their lives’
She had suffered head trauma, although a cause of death hasn’t been revealed.
Court documents released on Thursday detailing the criminal complaints against the two teenagers reveal that Miller admitted to investigators that he took part in the murder.
During the interview with detectives, Miller allegedly admitted he was at the park as the murder was taking place, provided materials used in the murder, and helped hide Graber’s body, the complaint reveals.
Goodale was said to have worn bloodied clothes, although investigators still haven’t said who they suspect of beating the teacher to death.
Their school – where Graber taught – was closed on Friday, with students being offered counseling to cope with the shocking death of the well-regarded teacher, who was described in one tribute as ‘an absolute angel.’
The newly-released documents also reveal that an associate of both Goodale and Miller provided information detailing social media exchanges between the two teens that indicated Goodale knew specific details pertaining to Graber’s disappearance and death.
Nohema Graber, 66, taught Spanish classes at Fairfield High School since 2012 before her life was snuffed out on Tuesday. Jefferson County police have charged two students at the Iowa school in her homicide death
A search warrant was then executed by Jefferson County police, who searched Goodale’s residence, uncovering ‘multiple clothing items appearing to have a substance consistent in appearance with that of blood,’ the complaint states.
The court documents also reveal that investigators questioned an additional teen, this one an ‘associate’ of only Goodale, who reported meeting with Goodale at the park the day that Graber disappeared.
Investigators added in their report that the clothes the witness described matched a blood-spattered outfit police seized from Goodale’s home, adding in the report that the clothes ‘contained a substance consistent in appearance with blood.’
According to police, the witness ‘described Goodale as wearing clothing consistent in appearance to that which was seized’ during the search.
The witness also told investigators that saw Miller at the park as well.
Miller and Goodale, both 16 and students at the school, have been charged as adults with first-degree homicide and conspiracy to commit first-degree homicide, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department said.
Graber’s body was found concealed under a tarp, wheelbarrow and railroad ties at Chautauqua Park, where she frequently walked in the afternoons
Graber’s son, Christian, wrote on Facebook: ‘I’m sorry I can’t respond to the all of the messages but I’ll just say what I’ve been told. My mother passed away.
‘As I understand it was pre attempted murder by two students. I forgive them and feel sorry that they had that anger in their hearts.
‘There’s no point in being angry at them. We should hope that they can find peace in their lives.
‘My mother was an angel of a woman and was one of the kindest souls.
‘She gave me the gift of the Spanish language and helped many of her students over the years.
‘She was well loved in the community and around the world.
‘Thanks to everyone who reached out. I may ask for some help with things in the following days but in the end everything will be ok. Te amo madre.’
Graber, a mom of three, leaves behind her two sons and one daughter (not pictured). Graber’s eldest son, Christian (at right), took to social media to say he forgives his mother’s alleged killers
Graber, originally from Xalapa, Mexico, also leaves behind her husband, after she was allegedly killed by the two teens during a Tuesday stroll through the Iowa park
Meanwhile, daughter Nohema Marie wrote, ‘We’ve lost an absolute angel in our family.
‘It is all thanks to her for instilling a love of travel and languages that my brothers and I have continued to experience the world throughout our lives.
‘We had the wonderful fortune of growing up in a home filled with such an abundance of warmth and love.
‘I will miss her loud laugh and dancing with her to any music that was playing, she had so much joy in her eyes and such a deep sense of faith.
‘To the two teenagers that so cruelly took her life,’ she continued, ‘it is clear that they need more love and light in their hearts.
‘But I agree with my oldest brother Christian, all we can do is forgive.
‘I am filled with so much gratitude to have had such a strong and beautiful woman as my mother.
‘And from the outpouring of messages, it’s incredibly touching to know that her presence impacted so many. What a blessing she is, we know that her soul lives on in heaven.’
Police said that Graber, pictured here with her three children, suffered head trauma before her homicide death, but did not reveal a cause of death as of Thursday
Graber’s remains were found on Wednesday, hours after she was reported missing, at the Chautauqua Park in Fairfield, located about 95 miles southeast of Des Moines, where police say she was known to walk after school finished for the day
Graber’s body was discovered hidden under a tarp, wheelbarrow and an assortment of railroad ties at the Fairfield park on Wednesday
Daughter Nohema Marie wrote on social media, ‘We’ve lost an absolute angel in our family,’ before adding, ‘I will miss her loud laugh and dancing with her to any music that was playing, she had so much joy in her eyes and such a deep sense of faith. To the two teenagers that so cruelly took her life,’ she continued, ‘it is clear that they need more love and light in their hearts. ‘She then, like her older brother, went on to forgive the two teens charged in her death
Authorities said the two juveniles will be tried as adults, citing circumstances and their ages. They are both being held on a $1 million bail, records show.
Court documents filed Thursday from their initial appearance in court indicate they did not yet have attorneys. Both appeared via video conference.
Magistrate Stephan Small ordered a state public defender to represent Goodale.
Documents said Miller did not request a court-appointed attorney and it wasn’t immediately clear who would represent him.
According to court filings made public Thursday afternoon, Graber suffered ‘inflicted trauma to the head.’
Fairfield High School (pictured), where Graber taught for the last nine years, cancelled classes on Thursday and on Friday after learning about the tragedy. However, the school’s counseling services will remain open for impacted students
Graber, originally from Xalapa, Mexico, taught Spanish classes at Fairfield High School since 2012, though it was not disclosed whether she had been the teens’ teacher.
She previously taught in the Ottumwa Community School District.
‘An act like this is unspeakable, and we are torn that one of our education family is a victim to such a senseless act,’ a statement from Iowa State Education Association President Mike Beranek read.
‘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.’
Kim Reynolds, the Republican governor of Iowa, tweeted her condolences on Friday.
‘My heart goes out to the family, friends, colleagues, and students that are dealing with this tragic murder of Nohema Graber,’ she said.
‘Ms. Graber touched countless children’s lives through her work as an educator across our state by sharing her passion of foreign language.’
Fairfield students were dismissed from classes Thursday and all classes on Friday were canceled, the district said. The school said its counseling services will remain open for students and staff.
‘We extend our deepest condolences to the family, friends, and loved ones of Mrs. Graber,’ Fairfield superintendent Laurie Noll said in a statement Thursday.
‘At this time our students’ and staffs’ wellbeing is our top priority. As a community, we will remain united in this time of tragedy.’
The investigation remains ongoing, with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation assisting the Fairfield Police Department, Fairfield Fire Department, Iowa State Patrol, Jefferson County Emergency Management, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and Jefferson County Attorney’s Office.
A preliminary hearing is scheduled for 11 a.m. Nov. 12 for Miller and at 11:30a.m. the same day for Goodale at the Jefferson County Courthouse.