Fatima Perez was found dead in a shallow grave in New Jersey, and authorities say they believe the mother of two was buried alive.
Police have charged two men, 36-year-old Carlos Alicea-Antonetti of Camden and 57-year-old Ramon Ortiz, with murder in Perez’s death.
Investigators said Perez was last seen on Monday, when she left her home with about $8,000 in cash to buy a car for her family. Fatima Perez was meeting with Alicea-Antonetti, a landscaper who knows the Perez family.
At some point, Perez and Alicea-Antonetti began arguing, and Perez fell out of the van and injured herself, police said. She got back into the van, and as she laid in the back of the vehicle Ortiz allegedly tied her up and placed duct tape over her mouth and eyes.
Fatima Perez was then buried alive, investigators said.
“They drove southbound to a wooded area, where Ortiz began to dig a hole,” a police report of the incident read. “The men put Perez in the hole, alive, poured lime on her and buried her. They tried to camouflage the grave with branches and debris.”
Police received several tips that helped them locate the buried body of Fatima Perez, and another tip pointed them toward the Express Inn on Route 38 in Cherry Hill Township, where they found both suspects along with $7,000 in cash.
Camden County Assistant Prosecutor Christine Shah requested $5 million full cash bail for each man.
“No crime is more serious than murder, and this murder was particularly heinous and depraved,” the prosecutor said, noting that each man was considered a flight risk.
Fatima Perez was born in Nicaragua but moved to the United States nine years ago. Family members said she was a devoted mother to her 21-year-old daughter and seven-year-old son.
“She was hard worker,” said her sister, Vanessa Castro. “She bought her house within a couple of years of coming here.”
Castro added that Fatima Perez always looked for the good in people, which left her open to predators like Ortiz and Alicia-Antonetti.
“She was strong, very strong,” she said. “But she was very naive about people. She trusted people too easily. She just didn’t have any bad inside her. And she didn’t see any evil in people, and how far (with that evil) people can go.
“I just don’t understand,” Castro added. “Why my sister? She didn’t hurt anybody. She would never hurt anybody.”
Both Ramon Ortiz and Carlos Alicea-Antonetti face life in prison without the possibility of parole for the killing Fatima Perez.