Like any other Miami teenager would on the sweltering Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, Juqwan Brown plotted to sneak out for a dip in the pool. The 16-year-old packed a bag and threw it off the balcony of his family’s second-story apartment.
It landed near a body — and helped authorities unravel the mystery of a missing Miami-Dade school test proctor whose two-week disappearance baffled the Miami Gardens community.
Kameela Russell was last seen May 15 pulling into her aunt’s driveway just around the corner from where Brown discovered her a week and a half later. The Miami-Dade Medical Examiner’s Office on Wednesday confirmed that her body was the one Brown found, washed up on the banks of a canal squeezed between Florida’s Turnpike and the tucked-away gated neighborhood of Andover.
Juqwan couldn’t tell from the clear plastic tarp that encased the body exactly what he had stumbled upon, but the gray leggings that poked out were a giveaway. So was the stench, he said Wednesday.
He ran and told his neighbor, who called police. Miami Gardens police, the lead investigating agency, confirmed it was Russell via fingerprints. The Medical Examiner’s Office said she died of blunt head injury.
Rumors have swirled about what happened to Russell, the 41-year-old single mother of two who worked as a testing coordinator at Norland Senior High in Miami Gardens.
Two law enforcement sources told the Miami Herald that police are investigating a former colleague of hers at Norland, who also lived in the gated community. The two had been friends since he was 10 years old, Russell’s mother, Linda Russell, told the Herald.
Russell was last seen by family leaving the 800 block of Northwest 203rd Street. The body was spotted in a canal along the 1500 block of Northwest 203rd Street. That is across the street from the listed residence of the former colleague.
The Miami-Dade County school district sent an automated phone call to parents Wednesday morning informing them of Russell’s death. Students said there was no announcement made to the student body.
“She was really nice; she did our tests every year,” said Kamya Jones, a 16-year-old sophomore at Norland. “I still don’t believe she’s dead.”
While many students suspect that a former colleague was romantically involved with Russell and is connected to her disappearance, others were adamant that couldn’t be the case.
“Ms. Russell was not the type of person to have a relationship,” said Otis Ridley, a 15-year-old freshman.
“Ms. Russell was always in her office,” said Nathaniel Douglas, a 14-year-old freshman. “Sometimes she’d be so overwhelmed she’d ask us to get her something.”
Otis and Nathaniel said Russell’s daughter, a 15-year-old freshman, told them the day after Russell went missing about her mother’s disappearance. Russell’s mother told the Miami Herald Tuesday that her granddaughter is now enrolled in virtual school.
Russell was a “very sweet, wonderful person, hardworking, wonderful mom,” Otis said.
A woman at the home of Russell’s aunt, where Linda Russell was staying, said Russell’s mother was not willing to speak with the media.
Miami Gardens has yet to return multiple requests for comment.