Wednesday, September 27, 2023

The Disappearance of Iyana Sawyer

Iyana Sawyer (16) was five months pregnant when she vanished on December 19th, 2018. She was last seen at her high school in Jacksonville, Florida. Surveillance cameras captured her leaving the school carrying two large bags around lunchtime that day. Iyana never returned home that afternoon and has never been seen or heard from again. 

Surveillance image of Iyana leaving Terry Parker High School on the day of her disappearance.

Once Iyana was reported missing, investigators quickly identified her uncle through marriage, then-33-year-old Johnathan Quiles (pictured below) as a person of interest. Quiles was arrested on January 9th, 2019, for suspected sexually battery against his underage babysitter. While behind bars, he reportedly admitted to a fellow inmate that he may be the father of Iyana’s unborn child.

Iyana and other relatives were living with Quiles for weeks at a time prior to Iyana’s disappearance. Investigators found even more evidence of an inappropriate relationship between the teen and Quiles on Iyana’s computer. Investigators discovered various writings authored by Iyana that implied a sexual relationship between her and Quiles. They also found a letter written by Iyana in which she professes her love for Quiles and expresses that she wants to run away with him so they can be a family. 

Investigators also spoke with Quiles’ brother, who told them that Quiles confessed to murdering Iyana. His brother stated that Quiles told him he choked Iyana to death. He reportedly said, “she wasn't dying right and it was making him sick looking at her.”

Johnathan Quiles

Despite all of this, Quiles publicly denied being involved in Iyana’s disappearance. However, suspicions against him remained strong, especially since he was arrested very shortly after Iyana's disappearance on suspicion of having an inappropriate relationship with another underage girl. 

Months later, Johnathan Quiles was indicted on murder charges in the death of Iyana Sawyer and her unborn child. The indictment stated that Quiles shot Iyana to death on either December 19th or December 20th of 2018. Although Iyana's body has still not been found, the state was able to gather enough evidence for Quiles to be indicted by a grand jury.

In September 2023, Quiles' trial began. Many testified about having knowledge about him sexually abusing Iyana. Among those was Iyana's sister, who testified that she was aware of their relationship but kept quiet because she was afraid Quiles would be mad if she exposed it. She also testified that she, too, had been sexually abused by Quiles when she was just 13-years-old. 

Quiles' brother Joseph Quiles testified that the defendant had admitted to killing Iyana. In fact, Joseph said that on December 19th, 2018, Iyana met up with Quiles at Ace Pick-A-Part - his workplace - because she believed they were going to run away together. While Iyana sat in a car behind the Ace Pick-A-Part, Quiles attempted to strangle her and before ultimately shooting her to death. He then placed her body in a nearby dumpster. 

Joseph noted that Iyana's pregnant was the motive. According to Joseph, Quiles killed Iyana because he would "lose his entire family" if she had the baby. He allegedly planned this murder for months. Quiles also reportedly admitted this to a several people throughout the investigation.

The jury deliberated for about an hour before finding Quiles guilty of first-degree murder of Iyana and her unborn child. He was also found guilty of sexual battery against a minor. Quiles' was ultimately sentenced to life in prison. 

Iyana's body has never been found. 

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