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Family living a nightmare after son was murdered and burned in the desert

EL PASO, Texas --A family is searching for answers after the tragic loss of one of their own.

28-year-old Manuel Sanchez Jr. lived with his parents and his youngest sister, who has Down syndrome. Sanchez also had a form of high functioning Down syndrome, living a very normal life.

They had just moved to El Paso from Chicago. They did so because they liked the neighborhood parks and the safe region.

Family members told ABC-7, Sanchez would frequently visit Sgt. Jesus Roberto Vasquez Park in Far East El Paso, which is very close to his house. He would typically play basketball with a group of friends there.

Back on Sept. 4, Sanchez went missing and never returned.

His parents grew worried after he didn't return home. His father tried to call his son, but his phone was off.

Days later, in a desert area near Loop 375 and North of Montana (on Fort Bliss property), a burned vehicle with human remains was found.

Investigators determined it was not accidental.

According to authorities, the victim was shot in the head with a handgun resulting in his death. Additionally, some of his property was also stolen.

On Sept. 14, investigators executed a search warrant for 18-year-old Michael Leyva.

According to court documents, during a recorded interview, Leyva admitted to shooting Sanchez. After ensuring he was dead, Leyva told investigators he and two other people drove the vehicle to the desert area and burned the vehicle along with some of his property.

Sanchez's family says their son did not know Leyva. They believe it was a random attack.

Sanchez's wallet, identification card, $300 cash and silver ring were stolen.

Leyva is facing capital murder and aggravated robbery charges.

Family members told ABC-7 Sanchez's body was so severely burned he has yet to be identified. It could take investigators years to identify his body.

The vehicle was only identified because of the VIN number.

Sanchez's family members described him as happy and joyful.

Sanchez worked with his dad as a truck driver in Pecos. Following the death of Sanchez, the patriarch of his family quit his job. The family is moving back to Chicago.

The family is making funeral arrangements for Sanchez in Chicago.

The family set up a GoFundMe account to help cover expenses.

You can click here to visit the page.

ABC-7 reached out the El Paso Police Department for more information surrounding this case, including more details about the other two unidentified suspects. We have not heard back from police officials.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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Rosemary Montañez

ABC-7 reporter and weekend anchor


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