‘How did this vehicle get here?’ Answers sought after Apopka man, 13-year-old found dead in pickup

Deputy discovers bodies of Jesus Pantoja, Christopher Gutierrez near Eustis, Florida

EUSTIS, Fla. – A friend of a man found dead alongside his 13-year-old nephew says she’s heartbroken and searching for answers while a double homicide investigation is underway in Lake County.

Elba Rodriquez said Sunday that Jesus Pantoja, 26, was a father who got along well with others and didn’t have any enemies.

“We have no idea who would ever do anything like this or why,” Elba Rodriquez said. “I know almost everybody he knows and not one person had anything against him in any way.”

The bodies of Pantoja and his nephew, Christopher Gutierrez, 13, were found in a white GMC Sierra pickup truck early Saturday off County Road 437 near Eustis.

Guiterrez was a seventh-grade student at Apopka Memorial Middle School and would have turned 14 in about two weeks, according to Orange County Public Schools and family members.

“Neither one of them deserved this,” said Maria Hernandez, the sister of Pantoja.

A white full-size 2001 GMC Sierra pickup truck being towed away on County Road 437 in Lake County. (WKMG 2020)

According to investigators, a deputy came across what he thought was a disabled vehicle on the side of the road and found the victims in the bed of the pickup.

“(The deputy) looks in the bed of the vehicle and that’s when he notices a body and then he notices two bodies in the vehicle,” Lake County sheriff’s Sgt. Fred Jones said.

Deputies said the victims lived in Apopka and investigators are trying to determine why they were in Lake County.

“How did this vehicle get here? is this something that happened here or was it driven here from another location? Those are all things that we try to figure out,” Jones said.

Investigators have ruled the deaths a homicide but did not release how the victims were killed.

“Based on the investigation so far, it does appear to be isolated and there’s no further threat to the community," Jones said.

"It's a great loss that happened to a lot of us," Rodriquez said. "I just wish it never happened at all."

Deputies said there is no indication that this case is drug or gang-related. The 26-year-old victim did not have any known criminal history, according to authorities.

A GoFundMe page has been established to help the family with funeral costs.

Investigators are asking anyone who saw the white 2001 GMC Sierra truck between Friday at 9 p.m. and 3:20 a.m. Saturday to come forward and call Crimeline at 1-800-423-8477.

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