Marilu Sadusky wasn’t expecting the call Wednesday morning when Special Agent Andy Herrera from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation gave her the news she had been waiting on for four years.
Five people had been arrested in connection to the murder of her brother, Jesus Avila.
Andrew John “AJ” Granado, 21, of Tulsa, Okla., along with Jordy Cornejo-Campoverde, 21, Armando Nunez, 20, Alan Alanis, 19, and Jovan Pecina, 22, all of Emporia, have been charged with murder in the first degree, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit aggravated robbery, aggravated robbery, arson and interference with a law enforcement officer. The case is being handled in Lyon County District Court.
“After I got the call [Wednesday] I sat there waiting for the moment of relief, waiting for the moment this pain would ease itself, even if it was just a little bit, but it never came,” she said. “I have no idea what I was waiting for really, but the reality of never seeing my brother again hit me harder than ever before.”
For four years, Sadusky has been mourning the loss of her brother with her parents, Jesus Avila Galvan and Maria Virginia Avila-Alanis, and sister Linda. Avila’s daughter was just 2 when her father was killed.
Avila was 19 when his body was found in a burning vehicle about five miles east of Emporia on Sept. 6, 2017. The car was discovered when Lyon County Sheriff’s deputies were called out to the area of Road 160 and Road T, near the Neosho River, for reports of a suspicious vehicle around 10 a.m. that morning. While Avila was pronounced dead at the scene, it was six days before he would be identified. The cause of death was not released.
The news came as a shock to those who knew “Chewy” — Avila’s nickname that started early in his childhood.
“I don’t think you could ever say that Chewy had a bad day, no matter what,” Braden Schuler, one of Avila’s best friends, said. “He always had a good, positive attitude and he knew a lot of people and he had a lot of really good friends. I don’t think you could find a single person that would have a bad thing to say about Chewy.”
Schuler met Avila in middle school, playing soccer together. Avila was a gifted player, he said, and “he was probably playing ever since he could walk.” When they moved up to high school Schuler stopped playing, but by then, the pair were inseparable.
“We had seminar class together, so we saw each other for an hour every single day, no matter what day it was,” he said. “After high school, we were hanging out every day. I had just started going back to welding school when he passed away, but we were hanging out in between my classes every day on my lunch break. I went to his house every single day and we would just play Mario Kart. We went for bike rides.”
Drew O’Mara was another one of Avila’s friends, often coming over to the house to play video games. O’Mara said he met Avila playing soccer, but their friendship grew from there.
“He’d do anything for you,” he said. “If you ever gave him a ring later and said you just needed to talk or hang out or just cruise around, he’d always be down to hang out with you. He was liked by all my friends. He was definitely a smile in the room when you needed one.”
O’Mara said Avila was the type of person that everyone seemed to like, an “all around great guy.” When O’Mara went to school in Pratt, they stayed in touch and talked regularly. He was in Pratt when he heard the news.
“I started seeing people’s Snapchat stories which was unusual so I was wondering what was going on,” he said. “I hadn’t talked to him in a couple of days and then the news broke that this had happened and I think all of us were just kind of shocked.”
O’Mara drove home that evening and met some of his close friends. They spent the evening sharing memories of Avila.
“It just seemed surreal at that point,” he said. “The trauma, sadness really hadn’t set in. It was just not wanting to believe that it was real. It was a really hard couple of weeks after it happened.”
‘I just wish I could go back’
Schuler said he had been with Avila on Sept. 6, 2017, hanging out together on his lunch break like they always did. Avila, who worked at Hopkins Manufacturing, was supposed to go into work that afternoon. They would find out later that he called in to work that day.
“I don’t know the reasoning behind that; he never told me that he had any other plans besides going to work,” he said. “I know that after I left and I went back to my afternoon class at the school, I messaged him later that afternoon and I never got a response. Usually he’d text back within half an hour, an hour. That was really unlike Chewy.”
In the days that followed, even before the body was confirmed to be Avila’s, Schuler said there was a sense something was wrong. It wasn’t like Avila to disappear.
“It was just a massive shock to everybody and it was hard to hear that happened to him,” he said. “I wish I could go back and that I could say something more to him when I left his house, you know. I wish I knew more about why he missed work and if he would have told me what he was going to do, maybe I could have talked him out of it or something. I just wish I could go back to that day.”
Juan Nonoal, Avila’s best friend and cousin, said he was supposed to hang out with Avila that day but got called into work and had to cancel.
“He was very kind and a really big people person,” he said. “He brought a lot of friends, new and old, together with his down to earth vibe. He was, and still is, loved by many people.”
Nonoal agreed that Avila was the type of person who was always there for someone who needed a friend.
And he was active at his church, starting the youth group at St. Catherine Catholic Church almost eight years ago.
“It was his idea and it’s still going on to this day,” Nonoal said. “[He was a] really down to earth kid [who] wouldn’t harm a fly, if anything he’d encourage you to let it be. He was just very noble and humble and I know he touched a lot of hearts, too, with his down to earth vibe. I miss going over and spending hours just playing video games all night and just laughing the whole time. There was never a dull moment with him.”
‘A bittersweet feeling’
More than a week passed with no leads on the case. Lyon County Sheriff Jeff Cope offered a $2,000 reward for information related to Avila’s murder. Weeks turned into months. The family did what they could to keep attention on the case through interviews with local media.
But those months turned into years. The Avilas marked birthdays and holidays without a beloved son, father and brother.
Nonoal said it was starting starting to feel like nothing would ever happen. That the family would never get the answers they wanted. That Avila’s death would go unsolved.
Then he got the news about the arrests.
“[It’s a] bittersweet feeling,” he said. “I can’t explain my emotions because I’m feeling a little bit of everything, but mostly relieved that the case wasn’t a cold case and that they have been working something out this whole time.”
Nonoal said the past four years have been filled with heartache. Some have claimed the family were “making assumptions” about certain aspects of the case.
“I was honestly losing hope,” he said.
Rumors had circulated for years but nothing ever came of the case.
“This was so unexpected and still feels unreal,” he said. “It’s like when it first happened, like picking a scab that was in the process of healing.”
“I think we were all expecting it to come at some point, but I think a lot of us had just kind of not gotten our hopes up because it had been so long,” O’Mara said. “After a certain amount of time goes by you really wonder if there’s anything that law enforcement can do about it. I think for the community as a whole, it was great to see how many people are sharing the news. It brought out a whole new hope in everyone and I’m sure for many of us it triggered some emotions that we hadn’t felt in quite a few years.”
A never-ending pain
Sadusky had hoped arrests in the case would help with the pain she felt. Instead she’s dealing with the opposite.
“It’s always been hard; extremely hard for us,” Sadusky said. “There’s always been this hope there and it was just, I don’t know, gone. Did they capture everyone? I don’t know, it’s still an ongoing investigation. ... I always knew capturing these people wasn’t going to bring my brother back, but I was hoping maybe the pain would feel different, that I would feel different or that I might feel a bit more at ease. But nothing changed.”
That pain in her chest is still there. Her brother is still gone.
The family has been dealing with a flood of phone calls since the KBI announcement. That has been overwhelming, Sadusky said, though they do appreciate the calls, texts and visits. But with the support has also come unwarranted questions and comments that have caused the family distress.
“It’s just like how it was at the beginning,” she said. “I want people to understand that like, we want people to be happy about what’s going on but at the same time, that this moment for us, this isn’t a celebration. This is harder than burying my brother, because now it’s like for sure I know he’s gone.”
And the investigation remains open. Sadusky is asking anyone with additional information about her brother’s murder to come forward, even if you think KBI and the Lyon County Sheriff’s Office already has the information.
Those with information are encouraged to contact the Sheriff’s Office at 620-341-3205.
An anonymous tip may also be submitted to Lyon County Crime Stoppers by calling 620-342-2273 or by using the P3 smart phone tip application or the P3 website at www.P3tips.com. Submitted tips will remain completely anonymous.