NEW YORK (AP) — A man accused of killing his ex-girlfriend and dumping her body in a suitcase in Connecticut is a citizen of Portugal who has been in the U.S. illegally for more than a year, federal authorities said Wednesday as the victim’s loved ones gathered for her funeral.
Javier Da Silva Rojas, who had been living in New York City, was taken into custody Monday and charged with kidnapping resulting in death in the killing of 24-year-old Valerie Reyes, of New Rochelle, New York. The charge carries the possibility of the death penalty.
Da Silva, also 24, entered the U.S. on May 8, 2017, through the Visa Waiver Program and was required to leave by Aug. 5, 2017, Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in a statement.
The agency on Wednesday filed a detainer for Da Silva, meaning he will be deported immediately after his criminal case is complete and any sentence is served.
Susanne Brody, a lawyer for Da Silva, declined to comment Wednesday.
The Visa Waiver Program allows citizens from 38 countries to travel to the U.S. for tourism or business for up to 90 days without a visa. Of the nearly 22.5 million people who entered the U.S. under the program and were supposed to leave in the 2017 fiscal year, about 131,000 remained in the country illegally, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
Also Wednesday, family and friends of Reyes attended her funeral at St. Gabriel’s Church in New Rochelle. They cried and hugged outside, with some wearing sweatshirts with her photo and wording saying, “In Loving Memory of our beautiful soul Valerie. You captured so many hearts.”
“She was just silly and just a free soul, beautiful soul. She’s going to be missed,” her cousin, Desiree Rodriguez, said Wednesday. “We’re devastated, but we’re happy that the person was caught so she gets to go in peace. It kind of brings us a little more peace, too, to let her go.”
Reyes was buried in a green casket adorned with flowers at a cemetery in nearby Rye, New York, as family and friends held white balloons.
Reyes worked at a bookstore and aspired to become a tattoo artist, co-workers and friends said. She was last seen on Jan. 29 and relatives reported her missing the next day. Town workers in Greenwich, Connecticut, found her body in a suitcase in a wooded area on Feb. 5.
Investigators focused on Da Silva after police said he used Reyes’ ATM card to withdraw cash multiple times after her death.
In a videotaped interview at the New Rochelle Police Department, Da Silva told investigators that Reyes fell to the floor and hit her head after they had sex on Jan. 29 at her home, federal authorities said. They said he indicated he put packing tape over her mouth, bound her legs and hands, and put her in a suitcase that he put in a forest after driving for some time.
Dave Collins of the Associated Press contributed to the contents of this report.