MIAMI (WSVN) - Miami Police have apprehended a suspect who, they said, was responsible for vandalizing the gravesites of two people killed in West Miami-Dade on New Year’s Day in 2021.
The vandalism occurred at the Caballero Rivero Woodlawn North Cemetery, located at 3260 SW 8th St., back in June.
According to police, 26-year-old Brian Rodriguez is responsible for recording himself on video spray-painting and maliciously destroying a tombstone belonging to victims who lost their lives due to a drunk driving incident on Jan. 1, 2021, along West 79th Street and West Flagler Street.
Cemetery officials placed a camera pointing at the gravesites. The resulting images are proof Rodriguez was at the cemetery in June and helped detectives in this case.
Police also shared an image of a middle finger over the gravesites.
“His actions were disgusting, initials a lack of respect towards the family who are still grieving the loss of their loved ones,” said Miami Police Officer Kiara Delva.
A family friend of one of the victims helped identify the suspect.
Rodriguez was located and taken into custody on Thursday.
“Detectives conducted an interview with the suspect, and he did confess to committing the crime,” said Delva.
Authorities charged then-16-year-old Alex Garcia in the deaths of 21-year-old Yuhlia Gelats Barzaga, her boyfriend, 22-year-old Christian Mohip, and their friends, 21-year-old Andres Zacarias and 21-year-old Jenser Salazar.
Investigators said Garcia was driving drunk and high when he slammed into the victims’ car. He accepted a plea deal in July and was sentenced to 14 years in prison.
Thursday night, the sisters of Salazar and Zacarias said they were relieved to hear about Rodriguez’s arrest.
“Finally he’s caught. Finally, he’s where he’s supposed to be, and I’m just glad that it’s over,” said Ingrid, Zacarias’ sister.
Ingrid said the friendship between her brother and Salazar goes back many years.
“They’d been friends since kindergarten. They were super, super close, they said, ‘Always hermanos forever,'” she said.
Vandals have also defaced memorials honoring the crash victims, but police have not specified whether or not Rodriguez is linked to these other incidents.
“We do believe that he was the one to do it the other times as well, five times in total,” said Haydee, Salazar’s sister. “Just to do it once is more than enough, and to do it five times is just – he didn’t care.”
Garcia’s attorney previously addressed the vandalism.
“Him nor his family have any connection to the vandalism. They condemn it; we’ve condemned it in the past,” said the attorney.
Rodriguez faces a number of charges, including burglary of an unoccupied dwelling. Police said there could be more charges.
“This arrest is a crucial step toward justice, and it sends a message that our detectives will not tolerate this type of behavior,” said Delva,” and they will do everything in their power to locate criminals who engage in such activity.”
“How can somebody do something like that to a gravestone? Like, why?” said Ingrid. “The motive, the why, I still don’t understand.”
Ingrid and Haydee said they don’t know Rodriguez personally, but they’re thankful detectives arrested someone in this case.
“What we know of him is that he did go to middle school with Jenser and Andres, that he was a loner, envious of them. That’s about it,” said Ingrid.
7News asked police if detectives asked Rodriguez about a motive when he confessed. They said he did not say why.
“I would literally just say there’s nothing that you can get away with. Sooner or later, everything was going to come to light, no matter how many times you denied it to us through messages,” said Ingrid. “So many times, because I did reach out to him personally, asking him why, and he kept saying, ‘It wasn’t me.’ He promised he’d swear up and down. I knew it was him, but just know that you would never get away with anything in life.”
Thursday evening, a spokesperson for Caballero Rivero Woodlawn North released a statement. It reads, “It’s unfortunate that anyone would vandalize a final resting place. We are thankful to the Miami Police Department, and will continue to work closely with them as this investigation unfolds.”
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