He sat in the front row of a Montgomery County courtroom with two framed pictures of his son – two weeks after his 17-year-old honor student was gunned down, hit by four bullets in his own car.
The father, Adi Najjar, was among the first who saw three suspects make their first court appearance Monday, each facing multiple life sentences for the murder of Northwest High School students Shadi Adi Najjar and Artem Ziberov.
In an interview before the afternoon hearing, Najjar said he wasn’t sure if he was prepared to see his son’s accused killers because he recognized one of them from a local liquor store. The suspect, Jose Canales-Yanez, has a large tattoo of a cross on the front of his neck, in addition to cursive writing found just below his beard.
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“I would recognize those tattoos anywhere,” Najjar said. “I saw the picture of him, and I knew I saw him earlier at a liquor store nearby, definitely. You don’t forget that.”
Najjar was asked about the encounter at a later news conference, affirming his belief that he saw Canales-Yanez before. Family members walked with Najjar away from the cluster of microphones before he could elaborate further.
Montgomery County District Judge John C. Moffett ruled the three suspects would remain behind bars, noting each is accused of first-degree murder involving “deliberate planning, brutality and overkill attached to it.”
Prosecutors noted how two of the suspects, brothers Roger Garcia and Edgar Garcia-Gaona, were arrested as they drove towards another state, traveling with a packed suitcase in their car.
Garcia-Gaona attempted to explain why the suitcase was there, but was cut off by a public defender in the courtroom. The suspects face a combined 14 life sentences connected to the June 5 shooting ambush.
“I will be here every day to make sure these people rot in hell,” Najjar said. “My boy is a beautiful boy, we raised him right, we loved him.”
Police said the high school students were killed out of vengeance. Court documents detail how a witness reported Najjar’s son allegedly robbed a woman in a Dec. 14, 2016 drug deal. The woman, Kara Yanez, is in a romantic relationship with the suspect who has the distinctive tattoos, Jose Canales-Yanez.
“This [witness] stated that Roger Garcia, Edgar Garcia-Gaona and Jose Canales-Yanez committed the homicide in retaliation for Najjar’s robbery of Kara Yanez,” an initial appearance report stated.
The witness in the report wished to remain anonymous, but provided intimate details of the crime that were not released to the public.
The Najjar family adamantly rejected the narrative suggested by investigators.
“I don’t want to hear on TV anyone bad-mouthing my boy,” Najjar said at the Monday news conference. “He’s not a drug addict, or a thief, my boy needs nothing.”
The suspects will return to the Rockville courtroom July 14, when prosecutors will reveal if any charges have changed and if there is enough evidence to proceed.