Police late Saturday announced three arrests in the slayings of two Maryland honor roll students found dead on the eve of their high school graduation — speculating the killings had been retaliation for one of the teens’ rumored robbery.
Jose Canales-Yanez, 25, and brothers Roger Garcia, 19 and Edgar Garcia-Gaona, 24, were each charged with two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, Montgomery County Police Chief J. Thomas Manger said during a news conference.
The trio of arrests came almost two weeks after 18-year-old Artem Ziberov and 17-year-old Shadi Najjar were found dead in Montgomery Village inside a parked, running blue Honda Civic on June 5, a day before they were set to graduate from Northwest High School in Germantown, Md.
Najjar, who was in the driver’s seat, was shot four times, while Ziberov was shot 10, Manger said. The assailants were believed to have fired off 30 rounds, and more than a third of the shell casings recovered were from Glaser .40-caliber ammunition, according to police.
It remained unclear whether there had been a motive for killing Ziberov, or if he was simply “in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Manger said.
A police interview with Najjar’s friend revealed the teen was believed to have robbed a girl in December or January. Authorities tied that rumor to a Dec. 14 police report in which Canales-Yanez’s then-girlfriend — believed to now be his wife — alleged someone in a blue Honda Civic had grabbed her iPad and dragged her about 50 feet with the vehicle.
“It’s believed that this is the robbery that Najjar was rumored to have participated in,” Manger said.
Confidential informants had helped ID the suspects and alleged the killings were revenge for the robbery, he added.
The double-homicide probe also revealed that Najjar’s last communication before his death had been a 10:13 p.m. text message claiming he planned to sell a graduation ticket to Garcia, who later told police he was a Northwest High School student but claimed not to know Najjar or Ziberov.
“We’re certainly working on the strong possibility that this was a ruse to get the two victims to that location,” Manger told reporters.
Authorities on Saturday executed a search warrant at Garcia-Gaona’s residence, where they found a partial box of Glaser .40-caliber ammo.
Despite the weekend arrests, Manger stressed the investigation was not finished — urging members of the public to come forward with any additional information relating to the case.
The victims’ high school memorialized the two teens during its June 6 graduation.
“For those of you who knew Artem and Shadi, we ask that you remember and celebrate them. They were both excellent students who had a positive impact on those around them, and they will be greatly missed,” principal Jimmy D’Andrea said in a statement.