A man accused of abducting, raping and killing a 15-year-old newspaper carrier has confessed to killing the girl, according to an arrest affidavit filed by police.
Jeffrey A. Hessler, 24, told investigators Wednesday that he had
picked up Heather Guerrero the morning before in the southwest
Gering neighborhood they both lived in, according to the court
document filed by Scottsbluff Officer Brian Wasson.
Hessler was arrested Wednesday shortly after Guerrero's body was
found on suspicion of first-degree murder, kidnapping, first-degree
sexual assault and use of a firearm to commit a felony.
Wasson said in the document that Hessler told investigators that
he had sex with the girl and drove her to an abandoned farmhouse on
the northeast side of Lake Minatare, where he shot her with his
handgun and left her in the basement.
Guerrero's body was found in the basement of the house described
in the affidavit. The court document said it appeared that the girl
had been shot in the head.
Hessler said he drove back to Gering on dirt roads, tossing away
everything that belonged to the girl from his car, according to
Hessler was being held in the Scotts Bluff County Jail in Gering
and was tentatively scheduled to be arraigned Thursday evening.
Guerrero disappeared at around 6 a.m. Tuesday while
delivering newspapers in her neighborhood near the Scotts Bluff
National Monument. Guerrero had delivered papers to 76 subscribers
of the Scottsbluff Star-Herald since May.
A neighbor had reported hearing a scream and seeing a 1994
Nissan Altima with tinted windows speed away with its lights off.
Deputy County Attorney Doug Warner said that Hessler is believed to
have been driving the car. Court documents said he admitted to
borrowing the car and driving it through the neighborhood when
Guerrero was abducted.
After finding the car later Tuesday, police questioned Hessler.
Warner said Hessler denied any connection to the abduction and was
released after his vehicle was searched. The affadavit also said he
turned his handgun over the authorities.
Guerrero's body was found about 10 a.m. Wednesday by her uncle
and another family member in the basement of the house. The results
of an autopsy were expected to be released Thursday.
An FBI forensics team combed the house for evidence as a
helicopter was used to look for clothing belonging to the girl,
including black bib snow pants, a light blue hooded jacket, gray
sweat pants with a maroon stripe and gloves.
Lake Minatare is an irrigation reservoir and popular
recreational area with cabins on its west and north sides. It is
about 12 miles from where the girl disappeared.
Authorities and volunteers started searching the area around the
lake after the family heard that a suspicious vehicle had been
spotted near the lake and house, Gering Police Chief Mel Griggs
Gov. Mike Johanns, who happened to be visiting the area
Wednesday, offered his condolences to the girl's parents, Anthony
and Irene Guerrero, at their home that night.
"This is an ache in the heart that will always be there,"
Johanns said. "Time may soften it, but it will always be there. It
is just an enormously sad situation."
A candlelight vigil had been planned for Thursday night at the
Geurrero home, which about two blocks from where Hessler had lived
with his parents.
Jim Vance, a newspaper subscriber along Guerrero's route, said
he was walking his golden retriever when he heard a scream early
Tuesday only about 100 feet away around the corner of a house that
blocked his view. About 10 seconds later, a gray Nissan with dark
tinted windows sped by with its lights off, Vance said.
Vance said he walked to where the scream originated but saw no
sign of foul play. He said he wondered if there had been a domestic
dispute of some kind and didn't worry about it until about an hour
later when police began slowly patrolling the area.
"We'd cross paths, say 'hi,"' Vance said about regularly
meeting Guerrero when he walked his dog each morning.
"Most of the time her father was with her," Vance said. "This
was one of those times that, for whatever reason, he wasn't."
Vance estimated Guerrero was about two doors down from her home
when she disappeared.
Star-Herald publisher Joe Craig expressed relief that a suspect has been arrested and hopes the arrest brings some solace to the family.
"The entire Star-Herald has been devastated by Heather Guerrero's death," he said. "Our heartfelt sympathy goes out to Heather's family and friends. We will do all we can to help them and our entire community get through this difficult time."
Last August, another 15-year-old girl who delivered papers for
the Star-Herald was sexually assaulted while at work in the
pre-dawn hours, police said. In that case, which remains unsolved,
the victim was grabbed from behind as she delivered newspapers in
the early morning hours.
That case is being investigated by Scottsbluff police, Griggs
Police did not issue an Amber Alert in Guerrero's disappearance,
because they did not have enough information to do so, but did
contact police departments throughout Nebraska, Colorado and
Wyoming to try to find the girl.
A crisis team was brought into the school Tuesday and Wednesday
to counsel Guerrero's classmates.
- February 12, 2003: Missing Girl's Body Found Following Search