The body of a male child was discovered by hikers on a hiking trail, near the Mountain Springs Trailhead area, 25 miles southwest of Las Vegas, Nevada. When a sketch of the child was released, his identity was confirmed as a 7-year-old special needs child, Liam Husted, from San Jose, California. His mother, Samantha Moreno Rodriguez, 35, was arrested in Denver, Colorado for his murder.
On May 28, 2021, at approximately 7:45 a.m., the body of a male child was discovered lying face up in a heavily wooded area just off a hiking trail. The Mountain Springs Trailhead, where the boy was discovered, is located on State Route 160 approximately 25 miles southwest of Las Vegas, NV. Law enforcement and medical personnel responded to the scene where the boy was then pronounced dead. He was referred to as John “Little Zion” Doe. The child was transported to the Clark County Medical Examiner’s Office for an autopsy
The Las Vegas Medical Examiner’s Office discovered abrasions on the child’s left shoulder, face, neck, and right earlobe. He had a laceration on his head. They determined the cause of death as manual strangulation.
Investigators held a press conference on the same day, requesting the public’s help in identifying the child. The next morning, May 29, 2021, a woman contacted investigators and explained that the sketch that had been posted resembled one of her sons. Her sons had gone camping with their father and they were not answering cell phone calls or texts. Within a short time, the father made contact, stating that he and the sons had been in a poor service cell phone area. Detectives confirmed the account and verified that the father and both sons were safe.
The Las Vegas Police Department, with assistance from The National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, released a digitally enhanced photograph of what they believe the child looked like before death. A woman in San Jose, California saw the media coverage of the case and believed that the child resembled Liam Husted, 7. She contacted law enforcement in Las Vegas and told them she had not seen her friend Samantha Rodriguez or her son, Liam Husted, in over two weeks. An investigator traveled from Las Vegas to San Jose, CA to collect personal effects belonging to Liam. The DNA from those effects was compared to the deceased child and found to be a match. Liam’s father, Nicholas Husted, was surprised. He stated that he would have never suspected Rodriguez of being capable of harming Liam.
Investigators traced the route that the mother and son had taken. They believe the pair left San Jose, CA on May 24, 2021 and first traveled to Victorville, CA, and Laguna Beach, CA before Rodriguez was spotted alone in Grand Junction, CO. On May 29, 2021, her vehicle was spotted on Interstate 70 near Grand Junction, Colorado. Investigators also learned that the last contact anyone had with Rodriguez had been on May 31, 2021, when she checked into a Denver, CO. hotel.
The Interview of Samantha Moreno Rodriguez
Investigators learned of the series of events through their interview with Samantha Moreno Rodriguez. Rodriguez told investigators that she and Liam were hiking at the Mountain Springs Trailhead. She stated Liam had been not listening and running around the general area. She was attempting to get Liam back into the vehicle, but he wouldn’t get in the vehicle so they could leave. Liam, who was on the Autistic Spectrum and only spoke a few words, continued not following directions. Rodriguez stated she lost her patience and pushed him hard, landing on the ground. Liam began screaming “louder than he had ever screamed before.” She confessed to manually strangling him for 10 to 15 minutes. She stripped his clothes and laid him under a bush. She explained that she had removed all the evidence from the scene, including his clothes, toys, footprints, and any other detail that could be identified. According to a detective, “Samantha showed that she had watched television crime shows and thought that by removing his clothing, it would make it more difficult to associate him with her after she left the scene.”
Samantha Moreno Rodriguez pleaded not guilty to killing her son at a hearing in August 2022. She changed her plea to guilty of murder and child abuse on September 1, 2022 in the Clark County Nevada District Court. She received a prison sentence of 20-years to life with the possibility of parole, but according to the plea agreement, Rodriguez must serve at least 28 years before parole consideration.
A Family Statement
Chris Husted, Liam’s grandfather, said in a statement, “Liam was a special needs child, at a disadvantage and dependent on others’ kindness. Unfortunately, his mother took that away. We are devastated. Liam was a happy, sweet, innocent child who adored his father. It is a complete tragedy, and Liam will be very missed. My son is very distraught by the news.”