Friends, family grieve loss of Raleigh student as suspect appears in court

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- The 20-year-old man charged with the murder of a Raleigh student made his first court appearance Thursday.

The judge informed Erick Gael Hernandez Mendez, of Clayton, that he faces the possibility of the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole if he is convicted on the charge of first-degree murder. He also appointed a public defender to represent him.

Hernandez Mendez was given a next court date of 9 a.m. on April 29.

WATCH: Raw video -- suspect appears in court
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Erick Hernandez Mendez made a first court appearance Thursday in the murder of his roommate Christina Matos.



Hernandez Mendez was a roommate of Christina Matos. Matos was found dead in her room the day after her birthday.

The victim's mother and father told ABC11 that it was difficult being in the courtroom Thursday.

"When you know the people and is (a) friend, it's very hard," said Matos' mother, Yolanda Matos. "It's very painful. This is tough for me and my family, because what happened? Why did a human do something like that? No respect, no remorse, no love. So, it's tough."

Many of her friends also attended the court proceeding. Some are angry, saying the killing was senseless and strongly insinuated someone else was involved

Police have not said how Matos was killed or why.

Eric Gael Hernandez-Mendez

Raleigh Police Department



Matos' parents also said they don't believe the killer acted alone.

"I 100 percent I know -- I know my daughter is strong," Yolanda Matos said. "I think she fight for her life, and I think another person because I don't think one person can win with her."

She added that she wants justice for her daughter.

Outside the apartment complex where the college student was found dead, a memorial is growing.

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Christina Matos' family says the 20-year-old charged in the case was not only a roommate but a friend at her Hillsborough Street apartment.



"This is the roommate. He lived in the apartment," Christina's aunt Norma Matos said. "Why?! Why?! When you live with your roommate, it's your friend! You live with your friend. Study with your friend! Speak with your friend! Why?! Why?!"

Matos' family said they had met Hernandez Mendez briefly in the past when he helped them move her into the Raleigh apartment.

Body of 20-year-old woman found less than a mile from NC State in Raleigh; Death investigated as homicide
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In Clayton, a mother and father are grieving and desperate for answers after their daughter was found killed inside her Raleigh apartment.



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On Sunday, a 911 caller reported Christina missing.

She was last seen alive on her birthday. She spent Friday night out celebrating with friends.

"I feel like it's a dream," her friend Camila Romero, who saw her just before she disappeared, said. "It hits harder when it's somebody that you're closer to, that you know of, that all she was doing was just working. If you meet her family, they've just been hard workers. They're immigrants, you know. We come here for a reason, to actually work."

She made it home to her apartment on the second floor of Signature 1505 on Hillsborough Street near NC State, but that was the last time anyone saw her alive.

Matos' mother and father said The Signature was her first apartment. She shared it with roommates while she worked and took radiology courses at Wake Technical Community College.

The joyful, former athlete at Clayton High School had plenty of friends -- but when Raleigh police detectives called her parents, investigators began asking who might want to hurt her.

"(The detective) came back and said, 'Let me tell you something.' I asked if they found Christina. And he said, 'Yeah we found her.' And I was excited and where she was. And he said, 'I'm sorry guys, we found Christina in her room and she's deceased," Yolanda Matos recalled tearfully. "Everything is coming down in my life."

Raleigh police discovered the body inside of her locked bedroom, only hours after her mother and brother had gone to check on her. Her mother had a key to get inside the apartment. But couldn't open Matos' locked bedroom door.

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