Suspect charged in Pearland teen's death

PEARLAND, TX Authorities now say that Joshua Wilkerson, 18, was beaten with a large wooden rod and that his body was burned. Hermilio Moralez, 19, is charged with murder in Wilkerson's death.

We are told by police that Moralez knew Wilkerson for about five years, that they were friends and that he often received rides home from school from Wilkerson. Now Moralez is in jail, accused of killing his own friend.

"While this is not the end that we had hoped for, we had to know something. They have helped us to bring a little sense of closure for us," said Laura Wilkerson, Joshua's mother.

As she thanked the community for helping locate her son's body, we are learning more about the suspect. He was arrested Tuesday, allegedly roaming near the crime scene. Authorities say after initially refusing to identify himself, he claimed he had struck Wilkerson with a piece of wood after the teen made advances towards him.

According to court documents, Wilkerson gave Moralez a ride home from school Tuesday and Moralez stated that Wilkerson began to make sexual advances towards him. Moralez said they got out of the truck and began to fight when Wilkerson grabbed a large wooden rod and tried to hit him. Moralez said he took the piece of wood from Wilkerson and began to hit him with it. He said Wilkerson was not moving afterwards.

The court documents state that Moralez told police he drove Wilkerson to a field along FM 521 near 518 and burned the body. Morales said he then drove Wilkerson's pickup truck to the parking lot of a nearby strip center and threw Wilkerson's shoes and backpack into a dumpster there.

"The things that he said weren't adding up," said Lt. Onesimo Lopez of the Pearland Police Department. "He gave the officers some false information and the decision was made at that time to take him into custody for failure to identify."

After police questioned Moralez further, he directed them to the location of Wilkerson's body on a piece of property along FM 521 near 518 late Wednesday night where the remains were found partially burned and his hands and feet bound.

A massive search for Wilkerson started early Wednesday morning after no one had seen or heard from him since he left his school, Pearland's Pace Institute, around noon Tuesday.

According to police, Moralez was a classmate of Wilkerson at Pace Institute, an alternative education school where one fellow student knew him as a normal student.

"He seemed calm, like he seemed like he was a calm kid. He used to carry around the Bible last year," said student Matthew Malish.

Pearland ISD released a statement describing Wilkerson as a polite and dedicated student who worked hard to accomplish his tasks. Counselors were brought in Thursday to help students cope with the death.

"Everyone is sad. They're depressed because of what happened and everyone is disappointed how he passed away," said student Jessina Silva.

Pearland police say Moralez was identified early in the investigation as a person of interest when he was observed loitering in the area of Wilkerson's abandoned vehicle. When questioned, Moralez provided false information relating to his identity.

Police also say that as the investigation progressed, Moralez agreed to cooperate with search and rescue activities on the ground. They say Moralez was handcuffed and walking with detectives through a field Wednesday afternoon when the group reached a fence. As investigators negotiated over the fence, Moralez attempted to pull a detective's weapon from his holster. Moralez was restrained and returned to the city jail.

Moralez has also been charged with failure to identify and attempting to take a weapon from a peace officer. His bond on those two charges are $2,000 and $30,000, respectively. No bond has been set for the murder charge.

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