LAWRENCE, Mass. — Police say surveillance video shows 16-year-old Lee Manuel Viloria-Paulino leaving his Lawrence, Mass. home on Nov. 18 with the 15-year-old accused of murdering and decapitating him later that evening, according to a police report.
The 15-year-old pleaded not guilty to the charge on Monday, but a witness told police that the suspect confessed. The witness said the teen admitted “he stabbed a kid and cut his head off ... motioning with his hands as if he was stabbing someone and cutting someone’s head off,” according to a police report.
Police say the teenage suspect showed detectives where he and Viloria-Paulino walked along the Merrimac River while smoking marijuana.
The duo were both sophomores at Lawrence High School. The teen suspect told investigators both liked nature and “the way the boat house across the river is lit up at night,” according to police. Detectives have not said if they know why a nature walk apparently turned deadly.
Viloria-Paulino remained missing for nearly two weeks, until a woman walking her dog spotted his headless body partially submerged along the riverbank. His arms were also cut off, the Boston Herald reports, and his body mutilated so badly the autopsy took 11 hours to complete.
Viloria-Paulino’s family reported him missing Nov. 18 and has criticized the police department, saying that officers at first thought he was a runaway and didn’t take the case seriously enough.
“We are poor. We are Hispanic. They considered this a normal runaway case. I told them from day one that it wasn’t,” the teen’s grandmother, Ivelisse Cornielle, said after the suspect’s arrest Saturday.
The victim’s mother, Katiuska Paulino, said she insisted that her son was not the type to run away.
“To every police officer, detective in our police department, if it was their kid ... would they have waited two weeks to look for him?” she said after Monday’s arraignment.
Based on a reported sighting of Viloria-Paulino after his disappearance that turned out to be false, police did at first treat it as a runaway case, Lawrence Chief James Fitzpatrick said after the arraignment. But he said his department made the case a priority from the start.
The department posted a picture of Viloria-Paulino on its Facebook page two days after he was reported missing along with the phone number of the detective investigating the disappearance.
“We were relentless on this case,” Fitzpatrick said, adding that he understands that the victim’s family is grieving.
Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera has stood by police but has suggested he may seek an independent review of the case.