Watch CBS News

Samantha Rodriguez, San Jose Mother Wanted In Murder of Son Liam Husted 'Little Zion' Arrested In Denver

DENVER (CBS SF) -- Samantha Moreno Rodriguez, a San Jose mother wanted in the murder of her seven-year-old son Liam Husted whose body was found outside of Las Vegas last month, was arrested in Denver Tuesday morning, authorities said.

Rodriguez was arrested by an FBI task force at a hotel in eastern Denver not far from Interstate 70, said Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Lt. Ray Spencer, who had made nearly daily pleas for public help to identify the boy since his body was found May 28 just off a highway west of Las Vegas.

At a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Spencer said Rodriguez was found at the hotel with an unidentified male companion, but the person was not considered to be involved in the boy's murder.

Rodriguez was named as the suspect in her son's murder during a press conference Monday in which authorities identified the body of a child found as that of Husted. Las Vegas police had worked with police from San Jose over the weekend to confirm his identity.

Liam Husted
Liam Husted (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)

Rodriguez left San Jose with her son on May 24, traveling by car first to Southern California and then Nevada. Rodriguez was seen traveling in the same car without him in the days following the discovery of his body.

Spencer said the boy's father had arrived home on May 24 to find both Rodriguez, his son, and all their belongings gone. A message from Rodriguez said, "I'm sorry I had to do it like this" and said she and Liam were going to find a house in some other location.

Spencer said at the time, the father had no indication from the message that there was any potential harm involved. However, he contacted San Jose police on June 1 to document the incident, and officers agreed there seemed to be nothing suspicious about the apparent family breakup.

"From listening to the message, there was nothing that indicated there was any type of foul play," said Spencer.

The boy's father even declined to file a report of a parental abduction because he did not want to get Rodriguez in trouble, said Spencer.

"At that time, he was not sure if he wanted to pursue any type of child stealing or parental abduction charges on the mom. However, he did feel that he wanted to contact police and let them know," said San Jose Police Sgt. Christian Camarillo.

Samantha Moreno Rodriguez
Samantha Moreno Rodriguez booking photo (LVPD)

A family friend told KPIX that Husted had autism, and that Rodriguez was a stay-at-home mother. The friend, who wanted to remain anonymous, said that Rodriguez, Husted and his father were a family unit and were inseparable. Friends believed Rodriguez was taking a break from being a mother, but when they saw the sketch of the unidentified boy out of Nevada several days ago they went to San Jose police to tell them the sketch resembled Husted.

At the time the sketch was released, investigators dubbed the unidentified boy as John "Little Zion" Doe. San Jose police confirmed Tuesday they were tipped off by a family friend who saw news coverage of the boy's sketch and told investigators she believed it could be Liam.

"Immediately, we connect that information with the information we had from June 1 and contacted Las Vegas Metro," Camarillo said.

Police said they sent an investigator to San Jose to collect clothing and a pillow of Liam's, which they used to positively identify the boy's body through DNA.

A hiker found the boy's body May 28 in a forested area off State Route 160 near the Mountain Springs Trailhead just west of Las Vegas. Investigators believe his body had been recently placed there and he was the victim of a homicide.

Spencer did not disclose the manner of Liam's death but it's believed Rodriguez was alone at the time of Liam's killing in Clark County.

"We believe he was killed in Mountain Springs," he said.

Spencer said investigators and the entire department worked around the clock on the case that was  "emotionally draining."

"Now that we are able to make an arrest in this case, it is extremely gratifying," Spencer said.

Anyone with information about the case was asked to contact the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department homicide tip number at 702-828-3521.

Len Ramirez and Maria Medina contributed to this story.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.