While Pinal County officials in Florence were announcing arrests in a gruesome murder, Teresa Galinberti was laying flowers at the Queen Creek-area home of Amber LeAnn Hess. She said she was friends with both the teenage victim and the suspects.
Nicolas Castillo and Todd Hoke, both 16, were arrested in the killing of Hess, whose burned body was found Monday in the desert near Florence, Pinal County Sheriff’s officials said.
At a tearful press conference Wednesday morning in Florence, parents Michael and Candy Hess thanked the community for helping deputies identify the suspects.
Candy Hess said Hoke was one of her daughter’s best friends, who spent hours in their home playing video games and watching movies. He would call constantly, she said.
“He was like a brother to her, which makes this even more confusing to us,” Candy Hess said.
Galinberti, who was placing flowers at the Hess home Wednesday morning, said Hoke and Castillo were “nice guys.”
“We’d just hang out together,” said Galinberti, describing her friendship with the two boys and Hess.
She said they would go swimming or have water balloon fights.
Galinberti said she had talked with both Hoke and Castillo and they were crying, telling her they didn’t do it.
Candy Hess said her daughter had a falling out with Hoke, who had called the girl a disrespectful name. The mother emphasized the boy wasn’t her daughter’s boyfriend.
“Basically they just didn’t like her and for whatever reason were planning to kill her,” Pinal County Sheriff Chris Vasquez said. “They went to her home and through a combination of beating, stabbing and choking, killed her.”
The teens were booked in connection with first-degree murder charges, with other charges are likely, Vasquez said. The teens likely will be charged as adults.
The assault is believed to have happened late Friday or early Saturday. Detectives aren’t sure if Hess let the two boys into her home or if they forced their way inside.
“From what I’m told this girl fought for her life in that home, and she didn’t die easy. It was very brutal,” Vasquez said in an interview from Salt Lake City, where he is attending a law enforcement convention. “If they had been adults, I would be screaming for the death penalty in this case.”
Search warrants were served at the boys’ homes Tuesday, and “quite a bit” of evidence linking them to the crime was seized, Vasquez said. He said the crime was one of the most vicious he has seen in 30 years in law enforcement.
“She just didn’t die quick enough for them. So they just kept doing different things to her,” the sheriff said. “It’s amazing in today’s society how vicious 16-year-olds can get,” he said.
Amber LeAnn Hess and her “friends.”