FLORENCE, Ariz. – Two teenage boys, including one who was described as a one-time close friend of the victim, were arrested Wednesday in the killing of a Queen Creek girl whose burned body was found in the desert, authorities said.
The 16-year-olds made statements that led detectives to believe they took part in the killing of Amber LeAnn Hess, 17, whose body was found Monday near Florence, Pinal County Sheriff Chris Vasquez said. Her body has been positively identified using dental records.
The suspects and Hess were acquaintances, Vasquez said.
"Basically they just didn't like her and for whatever reason were planning to kill her," Vasquez said. "They went to her home and through a combination of beating, stabbing and choking, killed her."
The teens will be booked on first-degree murder charges, and other charges are likely, Vasquez said. They likely will be charged as adults, and had a court appearance set for Wednesday afternoon in juvenile court in Pinal County.
Hess' parents had been away on a trip over the weekend, and when they returned Sunday they found blood and signs of a struggle in their home.
At a tearful press conference Wednesday afternoon, parents Michael and Candy Hess thanked the community for helping deputies identify the suspects.
Candy Hess said one of those arrested was one of her daughter's best friends, who spent hours in their home playing video games and would call constantly.
"He was like a brother to her, which makes this even more confusing to us," Candy Hess said.
Candy Hess said her daughter had a falling-out with the boy, who had called the girl a disrespectful name. The mother emphasized the boy wasn't her daughter's boyfriend.
Both boys were students at Coolidge High School, where Amber Hess recently graduated. They lived within blocks of her home.
Amber's 2002 Mitsubishi was located Tuesday just down the street from one of the suspect's homes, Vasquez said.
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."
Detectives got several anonymous tips that led them to the boys who were arrested. One tipster told of the teens coming to borrow supplies to use in cleaning up after the murder, Vasquez said.
Search warrants were served at the boys' homes late Tuesday, and "quite a bit" of evidence linking them to the crime was seized, Vasquez said.
Deputy Chief Clint Lee said the evidence tying the pair to the crime included fingerprints and weapons.