BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — A Connecticut man has been charged with murder after authorities say he lured a 14-year-old boy he had befriended on Snapchat out of the house and strangled him before dumping his body in a wooded area.
Diante Willoughby, 19, of Bridgeport, is charged with murder, murder with special circumstances and risk of injury to a child, according to court records. Willoughby allegedly confessed to luring Jose Nunez from his Bridgeport home, driving him more than 20 miles away to Oxford and killing him.
Willoughby is being held in lieu of bail set at $2 million.
A second suspect, a 14-year-old boy, has been charged with murder and conspiracy to commit murder after admitting to playing a role in Jose’s death, The Associated Press reported Tuesday. The boy’s name has not been released due to his age.
“This is a tragic incident that is felt throughout the entire community,” Bridgeport police Chief Armando Perez said Thursday at a news conference. “We cannot imagine the tremendous loss Jose’s family and friends are feeling at this time.”
Members of the Nunez family wept behind the chief as they clutched onto one another in their grief.
“As a father, I don’t have words,” Perez said.
Capt. Brian Fitzgerald, who headed the investigation into Jose’s disappearance and killing, explained that the boy’s mother reported him missing at 8:55 a.m. July 28. Later that day, detectives learned of a potential homicide in Bridgeport, with the victim’s body having been dumped elsewhere.
“We interviewed somebody who provided us with information,” Fitzgerald said. “That information was somewhat corroborated at that time.”
The Hartford Courant reported that court records indicate detectives received information from an informant who said Willoughby had talked of killing a boy named Jose and leaving his body in a remote location. On that first day, however, investigators were still in the dark on where the victim’s body had been discarded.
The next day, Wednesday, detectives continued to corroborate the potential homicide, with information leading them to a wooded area off of Wyant Road in Oxford.
“We ultimately did locate the body of a young deceased male who, through additional investigative measures, we determined to be Jose Nunez,” Fitzgerald said. “Throughout the course of the investigation, we had been closely surveilling a person of interest.
“That person was observed at the scene of the body yesterday afternoon and he was taken into custody by Bridgeport police detectives, members of federal task forces and FBI agents on Route 67 in Oxford.”
Watch Bridgeport police officials and family members of Jose Nunez speak below, courtesy of Fox 61.
The person of interest, identified as Willoughby, was interviewed by detectives, Wednesday night.
“He made admissions to his involvement in the death of Mr. Nunez,” Fitzgerald said.
According to the Courant, Willoughby claimed that he had received sexually explicit photos of himself from Jose, who he accused of trying to blackmail him. Police have not been able to corroborate that allegation, the newspaper said.
Willoughby admitted to driving Jose to Oxford and strangling him. He told detectives he checked the boy’s pulse afterward to ensure he was dead, the court records indicate.
Willoughby is a former police explorer, authorities confirmed. Law enforcement explorers are teens and young adults who show an interest in law enforcement and work with local agencies to learn more about careers in the field.
According to CBS New York, Jose’s family said Willoughby often visited the teen’s neighborhood and engaged with the children there.
“He would buy them Uber Eats,” Jose’s aunt, Wendy Rivera, told the news station. “He would give them money for, for anything.”
The family said Willoughby, who had known Jose for several months, lured the teen out of his house, allegedly for sex, around 4 a.m. the day he vanished.
About 24 hours after he was reported missing, the family learned the devastating news about the high school freshman who loved ones said loved snakes, video games and basketball.
“They told us he was dead, and they threw him away like a piece of garbage,” Rivera said.
Jose’s father, Higinio Campos, said last week that Willoughby lured his son through Snapchat, which made it difficult for him to find information to help detectives find his son. Snapchat photos disappear after just a few seconds.
Campos said he feared his son was with Willoughby when they reported the boy missing. According to Campos and the boy’s mother, Carmen Velez, Willoughby pursued both Jose and his 12-year-old brother.
“This is not the first time I told them that he kept contacting my son,” Velez said. “Now I will never get to send my son to high school.”
He thanked detectives for their work but said the process to find missing children needs to be more efficient.
“If I tell you this guy got my kid, just go check it out,” he pleaded. “If I say I think this guy got my son, don’t give me a yellow piece of paper and then tell me to go over here to waste more time.”
Campos urged parents to use caution when giving their children smartphones. He said even with restrictions he placed on his son’s use of the device, he was unable to protect him.
“These people were able to get to him through Snapchat and lure him right out of my house,” Campos said. “I woke up with my door wide open. (I) woke up five in the morning, my door wide open, my son missing.”
He said Jose had run away before, but had never left the family’s door wide open. He always returned home, his father said.
“I knew something was wrong,” Campos said.
Campos again urged more expedience in cases like his son’s.
“That’s my boy. My boy. It probably could have been prevented,” he said.
He said he believed his son left the house willingly, but that “the guy was tricking him the whole time.”
“Older guys can easily manipulate children,” Campos said. “Take care of your children, please.”
Fitzgerald said last week that investigators were looking into the allegations that Willoughby had previously been reported, but said the department has no record of those reports.
“We have nothing in our records system to indicate that Mr. Willoughby was presented to us as somebody who may be involved in sex crimes,” the captain said.
He said investigators are also looking into claims Willoughby had come to the attention of other jurisdictions regarding similar allegations. Anyone with information about Willoughby’s history is asked to call Bridgeport police at 203-581-5205.
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