THERMAL ( — After human bones discovered last month were positively identified this week as 19-year-old Maria Clara Rafael, police in Thermal have issued an arrest warrant for her 23-year-old boyfriend — presently unaccounted for —  as the murderer.

Jose Eduardo Ochoa had been involved in a child custody battle with Rafael, according to Sheriff’s Cpl. Angel Ramos.

Rafael’s remains were found March 29 at the intersection of Avenue 60 and Monroe Street. Rafael was last seen at a bus stop on the afternoon of March 5, 2012. Her family reported her missing the following day.

Ochoa, the father of Rafael’s then-3-year-old daughter, was last seen leaving his Thermal residence the morning of March 7, 2012, according to sheriff’s Lt. Jim Armstrong.

Ochoa’s white Acura Legend was found in a citrus grove near the Salton Sea a day later. Around that same time, investigators were given information that led them to suspect Rafael was the victim of foul play.

Officials believe Ochoa fled to Mexico. The couple’s daughter is now staying with family, according to authorities.

Ochoa is described as 5-foot-6 and weighing about 170 pounds. He has black hair and brown eyes.

Anyone with information on Ochoa’s whereabouts was asked to contact sheriff’s dispatch at (760) 836-3215, Investigator Josh Button at (760) 393-3500, or report an anonymous tip to Coachella Valley Crime Stoppers at (760) 341-7867 or

Related Link:

Parents Of Girl, 3, Missing In Thermal; Family Suspects Foul Play

(©2013 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)


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