Challenger Middle School parents, staff heartbroken by girl’s murder

MADISON COUNTY, Ala.-  Madison County authorities have arrested two men for the murder of 13-year-old Mariah Lopez.

Neighbors are shocked and hurt, especially because they didn't know she was missing in the first place.

"She had a lot of friends, just a sweet little girl. Everybody just loved her," Challenger Middle School substitute teacher Jina Long said.

Parents and students from Challenger Middle School are heartbroken over the news.

"It bothers me that this girl was out in the woods for almost a week and nobody looked for her. How is that ever going to be okay? It's just not," Challenger Middle School parent Angie Hunter said.

Earlier this week, Madison County detectives confirmed Mariah's body was found at Owens Cross Roads after she was brutally murdered.

"Not just normal evil, but a special kind of evil, to do this to a child, a special needs child," Hunter said.

Barely a week after Challenger students were dismissed for the summer, Mariah was never seen alive again.

"You just wish you could hug her and tell her 'I'm sorry that happened, and it'll be okay', but you can't," Hunter said.

"Pray for the family. They not only have one tragedy but two," Long said.

Mariah was being cared for by her grandmother, Oralia Mendoza, who was reported missing. On Friday, investigators with the Madison County Sheriff's Office found human remains near an Owens Cross Roads cemetery that they believe are those of Mendoza.

"You talk to any family that's gone through this, there's never closure," Hunter said.

Authorities arrested Yoni Martinez Aguilar and Israel Gonzalez Palomino and charged them both with Capital Murder of a Person Under the Age of 14.

Left: Yoni Martinez Aguilar Right: Israel Gonzalez Palomino
(Courtesy: Madison County Sheriff's Office)

"This can't slip through the cracks like a lot of abuse and death cases with children. It just can't. Not this one," Hunter said.