ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Family members of Juan Santiago stood on the side of a rural dirt road in west Orange County for hours Thursday, speaking with investigators and among themselves after discovering the 52-year-old’s body in a bush next to Lake Avalon.
The breakthrough had come the night before, they said, when they finally accessed GPS data for Santiago’s truck on his wife’s phone. It let them track the movements of his 18-year-old son, Jonny, who is believed to have shot and killed his father in Deltona during an argument Sunday night, before driving away with the body.
Specifically, they saw that the truck stopped at the edge of the lake hours after Santiago went missing.
“We’re hunters, we’re trackers — so he looked up into the sky. There was a lot a lot of ravens flying above,” Justo Burgos said as he retold the story about how family members found Santiago. “He put two and two together. Where there’s ravens, there’s something there.”
Burgos theorized that the father and son had found the spot during one of their many drives looking for good hunting and fishing spots around Florida. He said Santiago’s daughter — Jonny’s sister — first saw clothes through a bush. A male family member took a closer look and recognized Santiago’s tattoos.
Neighbors said the secluded spot was a relatively common place for bodies to be dumped, with one ending up near their homes every couple of years.
Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood said his deputies would have discovered all of this much sooner, but they had issues getting the GPS data off the truck.
“A little later on this afternoon, we got our first data dump back from Jonny’s cellphone that put the truck there at 1 o’clock in the morning at that location,” he said, adding that blood was found in the back of the truck after it crashed into a Mount Dora synagogue Monday afternoon.
He said the timeline meant Santiago’s body was in the truck when the teenager first evaded police in DeBary shortly after the shooting.
Although Chitwood had accused the family of not cooperating earlier in the week, he didn’t believe the family withheld information about the app intentionally. Both he and Burgos said Santiago’s wife has been emotionally destroyed by the last few days.
“‘I don’t care what you tell me what evidence you want to show me. My son did not kill his father. This never happened,’” Chitwood recalled her saying.
He said an autopsy will help determine how many times Santiago had been shot and other information about his death.
Burgos said the family planned to eventually take Santiago’s body back to New York to be buried, since the Deltona house was only a vacation home.
In the meantime, Burgos said they would support Jonny as the teen faces murder and attempted murder charges, though he was realistic about what happened.
“There’s only so much we can do… I think my my nephew needs to see a doctor,” he said, pointing to his head. “This is not just a regular good kid that decided to get into a struggle or fight with his father or whatever. No, something went wrong up here.”
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