WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A Palm Beach County woman and her brother were arrested Monday on first-degree murder charges in connection with the fatal shooting of a Broward County man who had been missing since September.
Jaytwan McNeal, 23, was reported missing Sept. 25, four days after he was last seen on surveillance video walking away from his apartment complex in Oakland Park.
A tipster told the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office that McNeal traveled north to Palm Beach County to meet with longtime friend and schoolmate Sophia Valdez, 22. The tipster claimed Valdez's older brother, Luis Valdez, 24, shot and killed McNeal, wrapped his body in a blue tarp, loaded it into Sophia Valdez's car and then discarded it in a dumpster.
"This is the worst feeling in the world," Bridgette Simpkins told WPTV about the death of her son. "I don't wish that on nobody."
According to a Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office probable cause affidavit, wireless data from McNeal's cellphone indicated that it had been in Palm Beach County on Sept. 21 but that all activity ceased as of 10:48 p.m.
Broward Sheriff's Office detectives, who were investigating McNeal's disappearance, said they received a call on Oct. 4 from someone who identified herself as Sophia Valdez. The caller claimed she and McNeal had briefly hung out and smoked marijuana before he walked away. As detectives questioned her about McNeal's disappearance, the caller hung up.
Four days later, detectives attempted a traffic stop on a red Hyundai Elantra that closely resembled Sophia Valdez's car, but the driver refused to stop.
Examining surveillance video, detectives determined that the same car was in Palm Beach County on the date that McNeal traveled there to meet with her.
Investigators established that McNeal took the Tri-Rail from Broward County to Palm Beach County, and surveillance video showed the car traveling to and from the Tri-Rail station on Lake Worth Road at the same time that McNeal's cellphone placed him in the area.
According to the affidavit, McNeal's phone records showed three separate calls were made with Sophia Valdez's cellphone within an hour of each other on the day of his disappearance.
Detectives eventually towed Sophia Valdez's car away, leading to an angry phone call from her. It was during that Oct. 13 call that Valdez admitted to fleeing from detectives, claiming she "didn't feel like pulling over," the affidavit said.
As investigators examined the car, they used a blood-visualizing agent to discover multiple areas in the backseat that were "indicative of a blood-like-substance being present," the affidavit said.
There was also "evidence consistent with someone attempting to clean up or wash away the blood-like-substance," the affidavit said. "It appeared someone had attempted to wash the blood away."
During an Oct. 14 search of the mobile home where the Valdez siblings lived, detectives found a .38 revolver in Sophia Valdez's bedroom and a 9 mm semi-automatic pistol in Luis Valdez's bedroom, along with ammunition in both bedrooms, the affidavit said.
Detectives said Sophia Valdez admitted to driving to the Tri-Rail station to pick up McNeal but that he "inexplicably walked away and left" after they had been smoking marijuana together. Detectives said Luis Valdez denied knowing or ever meeting McNeal.
But it was an interview with an unnamed witness whose sworn statement helped detectives learn what became of McNeal. The interviewee claimed to have witnessed Sophia and Luis Valdez kill him.
The witness said the siblings and McNeal left the mobile home park to commit a robbery, but when they returned, "there was some disagreement over money," so Sophia Valdez lured McNeal behind the mobile home, where Luis Valdez shot and killed him.
According to the witness statement, the siblings then wrapped McNeal's body in a blue tarp, loading into the backseat of Sophia Valdez's car and drove to Palm Springs, where they disposed of the body in a dumpster.
"Later that night, Sophia Valdez cleaned the rear seats of the car with peroxide and some type of cleaning solution from the residence," the affidavit said. "They also destroyed McNeal's mobile device at the residence."
According to the affidavit, detectives found parts of a blue tarp on the ground behind the mobile home "in the exact location where the witness observed McNeal's lifeless body resting on the ground."
Investigators used the suspects' cellphone records to corroborate their movements.
Detectives said DNA results later confirmed that the traces of blood found in the back of the car belonged to McNeal.
"It's hard because, it's like, I'm hurt and I'm also disgusted at the same time," Simpkins said.
Simpkins said her son was quiet, had a good job working for a travel agency and loved his family.
"He loved his brothers and sisters like crazy," she said.
Sophia and Luis Valdez were both being held without bond at a Palm Beach County jail.
Simpkins said she didn't understand why Sophia Valdez would want to kill her supposed friend.
"If that's supposed to be your friend, why? Why would you do that to him?" she said.