Gruesome details emerge in murder of Homestead Job Corps student

Clockwise from top left, Kaheem Arbelo, Christian Colon, Desiray Strickland and Jonathan Lucas.
Clockwise from top left, Kaheem Arbelo, Christian Colon, Desiray Strickland and Jonathan Lucas.

Three Homestead Job Corps students have confessed to a plot to lure a teen to the woods, where he was repeatedly hacked with a machete and forced into a shallow grave as he lay mortally wounded, police revealed on Wednesday.

The sickening details were included in an arrest report for a fourth student, Desiray Strickland, 18, who was detained on Wednesday and charged with her alleged role in the savage June murder of 17-year-old Jose Amaya Guardado.

The arrest report reads like a scene from the classic novel Lord of the Flies. During the carnage, Strickland “complained that she had missed the first series of machete strikes because she had walked away for a few minutes to urinate in the woods,” according to the arrest report.

After the group of students buried Jose and cleaned up the bloody scene, Strickland and accused ringleader Kaheem Arbelo stayed in the woods to have sex before returning to the Job Corps campus, the report said.

Miami-Dade police homicide detectives last week arrested Arbelo, 20, a suspected drug dealer at the school; Jonathan Lucas, 18; and Christian Colon, 19. A fifth suspect is expected to be arrested in the coming days.

Law enforcement sources have described the students as part of a group of bullies within the federally operated school. Investigators believe the killing may have stemmed from a debt that the victim owed to Arbelo.

The four are now being held in Miami-Dade jails to await trial on charges of second-degree murder. All of them are adults, meaning they could be eligible for indictment for first-degree murder and the death penalty.

All of the young people, including Guardado, were students at Homestead Job Corps, a live-in school and vocational training program run by the U.S. Department of Labor.

The program helps young people get their high school diplomas and learn job skills ranging from masonry to office administration. Job Corps, designed for at-risk students between the ages of 16 and 24, runs 125 campuses across the country.

In a statement released on Wednesday, a Labor department spokesman said “safety and security is our top priority.”

“Steps already have been taken to strengthen security at the Homestead center, and Job Corps is reviewing safety and security at all its centers,” said spokesman Stephen Barr.

He said the department was “deeply saddened” by Jose’s death and would be offering grief counseling to other students.

Jose went missing on June 28, and relatives had searched for him throughout South Miami-Dade. His brother later found the body buried in the woods not far from the Job Corps facility. Relatives described Jose as a “peaceful” boy who worked at a flea market selling ice cream.

Strickland, of Miami Gardens, refused to cooperate with Miami-Dade detectives when detained on Wednesday. According to police, she shoved an investigator, head-butted his chest and flailed about before she was shackled in an interview room.

She also used screws from an electrical outlet to try and pick her handcuffs, then scrawled “MPD Go to Hell” on a table, the report said. Strickland also was charged with resisting an officer with violence, battery on an officer and criminal mischief.

Arbelo, Lucas and Colon all confessed — in video-recorded statements — when they were detained last week, according to Miami-Dade police. The arrest warrants detailing their arrests remain sealed by the court.

According to Strickland’s arrest report, the group “conspired to plan” the murder about two weeks before the killing of the bespectacled teen. A few days before the murder, the group even dug the grave and hid a machete in the brush, Miami-Dade Detective Juan Segovia wrote in the arrest report.

On the night of June 28, they lured Jose to the woods and “ambushed the victim” with blows that caused “massive injuries.” As he was dying, the students ordered Jose to lie in the grave.

“The victim made one last attempt to fight off the attackers,” the detective wrote, “at which time, [Arbelo] struck the victim with the machete several more times until the victim’s face caved in.”

The group buried Jose, then wiped blood off a nearby fence before burning the dead teen’s belongings and their own clothes. “They also got rid of the machete and the shovel,” Segovia wrote.