Harrowing new details have been revealed after six suspects in Georgia were arrested — and now face murder and gang-related charges — in connection to a decomposing body found dead in the boot of a car last week.
Police previously said that the victim’s body appeared to have been starved and beaten for weeks, and Gwinnett County Police Sgt Michele Pihera added more detail in a Thursday interview on NewsNation. “We believe that most of these injuries, and most of what she went through, was a result of the initiation into the Soldiers of Christ,” she said.
The suspects — five adults and a teenager — “referred to themselves as belonging to Soldiers of Christ,” police previously said before revealing the allegations of an initiation. The victim, who has not publicly been named, travelled to the Atlanta suburbs from South Korea in mid-June to join a “religious organisation,” Ms Pihera said.
She said investigators are looking for more information about the group.
“We don’t know how far-reaching this organisation is,” she added. “It’s very possible that it was only taking place in the home in Lawrenceville.” She said that for this crime, she believes “we have all of those responsible in custody.”
Although it’s unclear exactly how the victim and the suspects knew each other, Ms Pihera said police believe that the victim and the suspects had “some sort of connection”, adding that their families seemed to know one another.
On 13 September, police took Eric Hyun, 26, Juoonhyum Lee, 22, Joonho Lee, 26, Hyunji Lee, 25, Gawon Lee, 26, and a 15-year-old into custody. They were charged with felony murder, false imprisonment, tampering with evidence and concealing a death.
Two days later, police revealed that the suspects were also facing multiple criminal street gang charges.
The 15 September police news release said: “Georgia law describes Criminal Street Gang as, ‘any organization, association, or group of three or more persons associated in fact, whether formal or informal, which engages in criminal gang activity.’”
The series of events that led investigators to the victim is somewhat convoluted. One of the suspects, Eric Hyun, was in a hospital and asked a family member to collect something from the car for him. That’s when the grim discovery of the dead body was made. The relative called the police.
The discovery sparked a homicide probe, with the victim’s cause of death is still being investigated. She weighed only 70 pounds at the time of her death, prompting the Medical Examiner’s Office to believe that malnourishment could be a contributing factor, officials wrote.