The police received a call on a Monday in May from an employee at a grade school in Miami.

The employee said that one of his co-workers, Ernest Joseph Roberts, 39, an assistant principal at another Miami high school who had recently been transferred to the grade school, had called him that morning with an unusual request, according to court records.

Roberts, who at the time was on a field trip with students in Washington, pointed the employee to a handwritten note he had left in the drawer of a filing cabinet at the school along with a set of car keys, according to court records.

"Do you know anyone that can chop up a car?" the note read. "If so or make it 'disappear' take these keys. Its behind the speedway racetrack on 441 by County line. Friends are gone and need it to disappear. If not leave it + I'll work it out later. Throw this note away!"

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The employee contacted police because he knew that a teacher, Kameela Russell, at Roberts's former school was missing, court records said.

Ernest Roberts. Photo / Miami-Dade Corrections
Ernest Roberts. Photo / Miami-Dade Corrections

Roberts was arrested and charged Friday with first-degree murder in Russell's death. The employee's phone call touched off an investigation that led to the arrest. Russell's body was found in a canal near Roberts's house.

The disappearance of the well-liked high school teacher drew headlines in the Miami area for weeks, but news of Roberts's arrest has generated a fresh round of intrigue. Reports have focused on lurid details laid out in an affidavit police filed for an arrest warrant as evidence of the seemingly brazen nature of the alleged crime. County officials, including Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle and Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert, joined other officials to brief the public on the case Friday and speak about Russell's tragic death.

"I knew Kameela," Gilbert said, explaining that he knew her from visits to the school where she taught, Norland Senior High. "She was the sweetest. When I take that long walk down the hallway and go to her office, it didn't matter what she was doing, she always greeted you with a smile."

Roberts had known Russell since the two were young; he was her children's godfather, authorities said.

The case began May 15, when Russell's aunt, Donna Blyden, called police to report that her niece was missing. Blyden told police that something strange had happened earlier in the night, according to court documents.

She said she saw Russell's car, a black Audi, pull up to her Miami Gardens home around 6pm, on schedule to pick up Russell's daughter and take her to a gymnastics class, according to court documents. But after Blyden readied the child to leave, she saw that the car had left the driveway. She called and texted her niece but received no reply over the next few hours.

Kameela Russell was last seen alive on May 15. She was caught on security camera entering Roberts' home but never leaving.
Kameela Russell was last seen alive on May 15. She was caught on security camera entering Roberts' home but never leaving.

Police began to look into the case, finding that Russell was a teacher at Norland, according to court documents. She had shown up to work that day in a black T-shirt emblazoned with the name of the school's wrestling programme, charcoal-coloured jogging pants and dark tennis shoes, and was shown on video leaving the campus, as well.

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Detectives met with the grade school employee after getting his call; the employee told them he had received a call from Roberts on May 15 in which Roberts told him, "I did something crazy," court documents said. Roberts told the employee that he had killed an intruder at his mother's house with a baseball bat, then wrapped the body in a tarp and dragged it through his house, leaving blood stains.

Roberts had asked the employee how to get rid of the blood stains; the employee told him to use bleach, but told police he had been joking, according to court records.

That day, police went to Roberts's house, which is a few blocks away from Blyden's home. There they found an Amazon box with blood spatter on it and bloody sandals, court records said. The house smelled of bleach, the records said. They also found the black Audi, exactly where the note said it would be.

Five days later, a teenager found a body wrapped in plastic in a canal a few blocks from Roberts's house, according to the Miami Herald. An autopsy found that the person had died of blunt force trauma to the head; the corpse was wearing a black T-shirt that read "Norland Wrestling" and charcoal-coloured jogging pants. Police identified the body as Russell from her fingerprints and tattoos. DNA from the body matched the blood at Roberts's house.

Video that police obtained from surveillance cameras at a house across the street from Roberts's show Russell arriving in Roberts's driveway about 6pm that May day and entering his house. About 6.54pm, Roberts is seen on video backing Russell's car up close to the front door of his house, court records said. Russell is never seen leaving the house, they said. Police said the last person to have any contact with Russell was Roberts, who called her at 6.01pm that day.

Information about Roberts's legal representation was not immediately available.

The Miami-Dade County public school district said that Roberts had been removed from duty while the case was being investigated and that district authorities are now terminating his employment. He had worked for the public school system since 2004.

He was arrested Friday morning after he dropped his stepdaughter off at a home, the Miami Herald reported.