Crime & Courts

Teen charged in triple homicide involving ‘America’s Next Top Model’ contestant

Model Mirjana Puhar last August. Multiple media outlets are reporting that she is one three victims in a triple homicide in Charlotte.
Model Mirjana Puhar last August. Multiple media outlets are reporting that she is one three victims in a triple homicide in Charlotte. Getty Images for NYLON

A Charlotte teen is accused of killing four people in a three-day span this week, including an East Mecklenburg High graduate who was a contestant on “America’s Next Top Model.”

Police believe a triple homicide on Norris Avenue a mile north of uptown discovered Tuesday was drug-related and that the suspect, Emmanuel Jesus Rangel, 19, knew the people he’s accused of killing. Investigators are trying to determine whether the case in Charlotte is related to a Sunday killing at a hotel in Matthews in which Rangel has also been charged with murder.

Another 19-year-old, Edward Sanchez, is charged with first-degree murder in connection with the Matthews killing, in the parking lot of a Microtel Inn & Suites off of Independence Boulevard early Sunday. Emily Ann Isaacs, 18, was charged with accessory after the fact to first-degree murder. Isaacs and Sanchez are in jail in Harris County, Texas, awaiting extradition.

The victim in the Matthews case was identified as Rosool Jaleel Harrell, 22, of Charlotte.

Around 5 p.m. Tuesday, two days after Harrell’s killing, police were dispatched to a one-story home on Norris Avenue off Graham Street. A source told them there were three dead people inside the home.

Police identified the victims as Jonathan Cosme Alvarado, 23, Jusmar Isiah Gonzaga-Garcia, 21, and Mirjana Puhar, 19. Police have not said how or when the victims were killed.

‘Vivacious and promising’

Puhar was a contestant last year on “America’s Next Top Model.”

She was born in Serbia and after the Kosovo War, her family fled the country with $50 to their name, she told the Observer in an interview last year. They moved to North Carolina a decade ago. Puhar attended East Mecklenburg High then Queen’s Grant High in Mint Hill before dropping out at age 16. She later earned her GED at Central Piedmont Community College.

In a statement, Ken Mok and Tyra Banks, executive producers of “America’s Next Top Model,” said: “We are deeply saddened to learn of the tragic news about Mirjana Puhar. She was a vivacious and promising young woman. Our hearts and prayers go out to her loved ones.”

On Wednesday, an official Twitter site for “America’s Next Top Model” retweeted a remembrance.

“Life’s too short. Celebrating our top model family ... We are and always will be a family #queenmirjana we miss you.”

Puhar told the Observer she began modeling at age 12 and did runway shows at Charlotte Fashion Week. She said she had a troubled adolescence, that included her decision to quit school.

“I was a wild child,” she told the Observer. “I went out, had fun, partied, whatever – I didn’t really have the best influences around me.”

Puhar decided to obtain her GED in 2013. Shortly after that, she was cast on “America’s Next Top Model,” a reality show on The CW that pits aspiring models against each other.

Police have not said how she ended up in the home on Norris Avenue or how she knew Rangel.

Previous charges

Rangel, of Charlotte, is scheduled to make his first court appearance in connection with the killings Thursday afternoon.

His family couldn’t be reached for comment, but criminal records and police reports provide some details about his past.

In 2011, when he was 16, he was reported missing from a home on Willow Park Drive. A year later, in March 2012, he was charged with possession of marijuana. The charge was voluntarily dismissed five months later.

And in a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police report last year, he was accused of assaulting a 30-year-old woman at the home on Norris Avenue.

“The victim stated (Rangel) broke into her residence, dragged her out of the residence, and assaulted her by punching her in the head and face,” the report says.

The incident happened at the home on Norris Avenue where the bodies were found on Tuesday.

A connected killing?

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police say their source told them three dead people were inside the home on Norris Avenue. They discovered the bodies around 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Investigators recovered a black and silver Smith & Wesson handgun from the home, according to a police report, although investigators have not said whether the gun was linked to the killings.

Police were still at the homicide scene Wednesday afternoon and had blocked access to the home.

Neighbors told the Observer the residents at the corner house mostly kept to themselves.

One neighbor said the young people who lived there seemed like night owls, blaring music at 11 at night and also 6 in the morning.

As part of the investigation, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police contacted Matthews police, inquiring if the slayings were related to the homicide at the Microtel.

In that case, Matthews police were dispatched to the motel’s rear parking lot after receiving a call about shots fired.

They found two men with gunshot wounds inside a car. One man, later identified as Harrell, was dead. The other had life-threatening injuries. Police haven’t released that man’s name or given an update on his condition.

Officer Tim Aycock, a spokesman for the Matthews Police Department, said investigators there are trying to determine whether there’s a connection between the two killings other than the suspect.

He said investigators are unsure whether the killing was drug-related. “Obviously, that’s something we’re checking into,” Aycock said. Observer researcher Maria David and staff writers Katie Peralta and Theoden Janes contributed.

Wootson: 704-358-5046;

Twitter: @CleveWootson

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