WINTER HAVEN, Fla. — Arrest reports for people connected with Sierra Hernandez, the Polk County woman reported missing this month and found dead this week, reveal details of what may have led to the 20-year-old's death. 

What You Need To Know

  • The Polk Sheriff's Office said earlier this week the remains of Sierra Hernandez, 20, have been recovered

  • Sierra was reported missing by family on Jan. 14

  • A suspect in the case, Enrique Martinez, was captured earlier this week, but is not charged in Sierra's death

  • Two people connected with Sierra have been arrested

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd announced on Monday that law enforcement recovered her body and were looking for suspect Enrique Martinez, 26. Limited information was released about the case, with Judd saying it was believed others were also involved. Martinez had been wanted since November for allegedly murdering Edil Rodriguez Jr. Judd said Martinez’s family and friends were helping him evade authorities. He was apprehended Tuesday.

Martinez hasn’t been charged in Sierra’s death, but two people connected with her have been arrested. According to affidavits, Blake Sterling, 21, told detectives he met Sierra online. He said they spoke on Facebook for a month before deciding to meet in person on Jan. 9. Sierra told a friend two days before that she was going camping with Sterling, and she dropped a note off at her job at a Lakeland sandwich shop on Jan. 8. Sterling reportedly told investigators he suggested they meet at the home of Daphne Fernandez, 44, someone he knew in the Inwood area. Sierra drove her car to the home on Avenue T NW, and the two stayed there overnight. 

The report says Sterling left the next day and came back sometime later. He found Fernandez there with Martinez, and Sierra’s hands and wrists were tied up. He told investigators that he overheard Fernandez ask Sierra, “So, you are not going to call the cops, right?” He said Sierra replied she would not. Sterling said he confronted Fernandez and Martinez, and Martinez charged at him. That’s when Sterling said he fled the house and spent several days hiding in the woods because he was afraid of Martinez.

According to the documents, Fernandez was arrested on Jan. 15 for driving without a license. She was in Sierra’s car at the time. Fernandez told investigators Sierra had been staying with her and left a few days earlier, giving Fernandez permission to use her car. Photos of Sierra’s driver’s license and bank card were found on Fernandez’s phone, taken on Jan. 9 - the day Sierra reportedly arrived at her home.

Documents state another woman interviewed told detectives she overheard a conversation between a male who lives with Fernandez and two other people. She said he told them “they had her tied up and torturing her” in the home. The property was searched, and a pile of burned items were found in the backyard that included human remains. Those have not been identified.

The sheriff has said Sierra was reported missing by her mother on Jan. 14. Her father describes the time since as chaotic.

“Can’t eat. Phone calls, text messages coming in,” said her father, Christopher Hernandez. “It’s been awful.”

He said his daughter was a loving, happy-go-lucky person.

“Bring sunlight to the night,” he said. “Very spiritual. She would make anybody smile.”

Her older brother, also named Christopher Hernandez, said he and his wife came in from Fort Myers after she disappeared.

“She needed something, she’d call me. I needed something, I’d call her. She was always, ‘Hey, Bubba.’ ‘Hey, Sis,’” he said of his relationship with Sierra. 

Polk Sheriff’s Office records show Sierra’s father, stepmother, brother, sister-in-law, and a friend were arrested on Jan. 18 after they were found on Fernandez’s property. Detectives were conducting surveillance at the time. Her father told them they were there to look for Sierra.

“We had heard that she had been burned. So, we went to see if there was a sign of that,” said Sierra’s brother.

“We did what we had to do as a family,” said her father. “We knew what we had to do, so we did it. Would I do it again? Yes, I would.”

Assistant State Attorney Jake Orr confirmed to Spectrum Bay News 9 that all charges related to that incident have been dropped. Family tell us Sierra’s stepmother, sister-in-law, and friend lost their jobs as a result, though the friend has since gotten his back.

Sierra’s brother said learning this week that her remains were recovered was a relief, but also painful.

“I’m not 100% sold they found her absolutely,” said her father. “But it’s devastating. It’s devastating to know that it happened the way it happened.”

Fernandez faces a charge of accessory after the fact to first degree murder, while Sterling is charged with a probation violation.

Judd has said more details about the case could be released next week.