Crime

Police arrest man in death, burning of 17-year-old Sweetwater girl

Armando Botell
Armando Botell Miami-Dade County Department of Corrections

Armando Botell was so obsessed with a woman almost 50 years younger that he paid someone to stalk her, collected naked pictures of her, physically abused her, and tried to control her by supplying her with the Xanax she desperately craved, police said.

Last October, police said, Botell finally snapped, killing 17-year-old Romina Fernandez and setting her body on fire behind a Sweetwater strip mall. By the time police and firefighters arrived, the teen’s body was so badly disfigured that the medical examiner needed dental records to identify her.

On Thursday, police arrested Botell, 66, and charged him with second-degree murder with a deadly weapon. He was taken to the Turner Guilford Knight correctional facility. A judge denied him bond.

Police, who combined witness testimony, video surveillance taken near the crime scene, cellphone records and other forensics to charge Botell, deduced that he might have killed her because he “was becoming emotionally distraught over his obsession with the victim.”

Police said video surveillance taken from the mall where Romina’s body was found showed a man stepping out of a silver Mercedes SL350 and dumping what appeared to be a body. Police later matched that car to Botell.

Romina’s family, who lived in the Sweetwater Groves trailer park at the time of her death, couldn’t be reached Friday.

Past and present accounts taken from family members, witnesses and police, indicate that Romina may have been in trouble a day before her body was discovered on Oct. 11, 2014, by Sweetwater police and Miami-Dade Fire Rescue in an alley behind a Sweetwater strip mall at 11400 W. Flagler St.

On Oct. 10, Romina’s mother, Andrea Perez, received a text from her daughter’s cellphone that she was certain didn’t come from Romina.

“Hi mom, I’m OK. I’m moving to New York with a friend. Don’t worry,” read the text.

It made no sense to Perez, who said at the time she knew “something about the message just wasn’t right.”

So the family immediately began canvassing the neighborhood with pictures of Romina and begging for help. They called Sweetwater police, who issued a missing persons report. It was only after the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner used dental records that police were able to identify the young woman whose body had been burned as the missing teenager.

Even after the family was informed of Romina’s death, Botell may have continued needling them. Almost two weeks after Romina died, her mother received a letter in the mail.

“Hola Mami. I’m OK. I’m going to New York with a friend. He bought me food and my medicine. Don’t worry. I’ll call you in a month,” the letter claiming to have come from Romina said.

Florida Department of Law Enforcement records show Botell was living in Hialeah in 1980 while he was wanted for a homicide charge in California. It was unclear Friday whether Botell was ever extradited.

Romina, who was born in Uruguay and moved to Miami when she was 2, wanted to become a cosmetologist. A diabetic who required insulin after every meal, she was forced to drop out of Killian High School after complications arose from her disease, her mother said. Romina had been taking GED courses and looking forward to graduation, said Perez.

Right after Romina’s body was identified, the community gathered to help the family, which didn’t have enough money to bury the teenager. Local business owner Mustaf Basheer organized a fundraiser that paid for the funeral, and the family collected enough money to move out of the trailer park.

Botell, who stands over six feet tall, weighs more than 250 pounds and sports a thick gray beard and sideburns, gave statements to police in February and May. Police said one witness they spoke with said that after the February interview, Botell seemed “anxious,” and “nervous,” and requested help to leave the country.

Romina’s relationship with Botell, which police believe went back three years, seems to have been kept secret from her family. Friends who didn’t want to be identified Friday said they weren’t aware of Botell.

At the time of Romina’s death, her mother said, “If she was going through something, it never showed.”

Herald Staff Writer David Ovalle contributed to this report.

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