She was a hardworking teenager and loving family member, who wanted to become a police officer, former co-workers and relatives said Monday.
So when Abigail Villalpando didn't show up for her waitressing job Thursday, family members called authorities. They later learned that the West Aurora High School senior had been struck repeatedly with a hammer, her body doused with gasoline and set ablaze in a barrel in the backyard of an Aurora home. Her car was torched and left at another location.
The teen's remains were so badly burned that officials had to use dental records to identify her, authorities said.
Police charged three men in Villalpando's slaying, one for her death and two for concealing her homicide. Police said the victim knew the man charged with her death, but authorities did not disclose a motive in court. It was the first slaying in Aurora in more than a year.
The victim's brother, Ricardo "Ricky" Villalpando, 21, said he and his sister moved into an apartment together in September. Abby, as she liked to be called, wanted to be a police officer because of her love of children, and she planned to go to college after her summer graduation, he said.
"My sister was the most responsible 18-year-old I knew," said Villalpando, the oldest of four. "Everything she had — her car, her insurance, her clothes — she paid for on her own."
Ricky Villalpando described the suspects as his sister's best friends. They met in middle school, Villalpando said.
He said Juan Garnica Jr., the man charged with the slaying, was jealous that she was seeing someone else and was "obsessed with her."
Police have not talked about a motive.
The killing of Villalpando, who worked at Denny's, shocked those who respected her for her work ethic and buoyant personality.
Her sweet demeanor — which kept regulars coming back to the restaurant where she worked after school — made it almost impossible for those who knew her to comprehend her death.
"They can't understand why something like this would happen," said Ben Richter, manager at the restaurant where Villalpando worked for three years and where shocked customers called to express condolences. "She will be missed."
Garnica, 18, of Aurora, was ordered held on $5 million bail for beating Villalpando to death with a hammer Thursday, authorities said.
The two men charged with concealing the homicide are Enrique Prado, 19, and Jose Becerra, 20.
Villalpando was a caring person who had told family members she was trying to make some personal changes, said a friend of the family, Jose Ocampo.
"She was trying to change her life around," he said.
Villalpando transferred in mid-December from East Aurora High School, according to Mike Chapin, community relations director for School District 129.
Students at the high school were alerted of Villalpando's death in a morning announcement.
School officials spent the weekend preparing teachers and a crisis team of social workers and psychologists to help the 3,500-student population to cope, Chapin said.
"As long as any student needs assistance working through this, there will be resources," Chapin said. "It's a horrible thing for the students to even try to comprehend."
Police said the victim met Garnica and Prado on Thursday at Prado's Aurora home and that Garnica hit the petite teenager in the head several times with a hammer after Prado left the room.
Villalpando's charred body was discovered Sunday morning in a wooded area near Montgomery.
During a brief court appearance in Kane County, Assistant State's Attorney Bill Engerman declined to disclose why Villalpando went to the house, but police said she knew Garnica and Prado.
Police said that sometime Thursday night, Garnica allegedly drove the victim's Nissan Altima to the High Street bridge over the railroad tracks on the city's near east side and left it there.
Villalpando's body was concealed in a container in Prado's garage, police said.
On Friday, Garnica and Prado bought a can of gasoline, which Garncia used to torch Villalpando's car, authorities said. Garnica then allegedly burned the victim's body in a barrel in the backyard at Prado's house.
Afterward, he enlisted the help of Becerra, of Oswego, to dump the body, police said.
Prado was ordered held on $100,000 bail and also faces arson charges. Becerra did not appear in court Monday.
Villalpando's family reported her missing about 2:30 a.m. Friday, after she failed to show up at her job at the Denny's near the Westfield Fox Valley mall. A restaurant employee called the family around 5 p.m. Thursday to report that she had not shown up for work.
As police investigated the teen's disappearance, they learned that she had visited Garnica and Prado at Prado's house on the near east side of Aurora, where court records indicate she had previously lived.
A missing-person flier that was circulated after her disappearance listed Villalpando as 4 feet 11 inches tall and 105 pounds. It said she was last seen wearing her Denny's uniform: black pants and a black shirt with the restaurant logo.
It was the first homicide in Aurora — the state's second-largest city — since 2011, according to police spokesman Dan Ferrelli.
Aurora reported a homicide-free year in 2012 after seeing a decline in killings in previous years. The community reported 25 homicides in 2002, but totals were down to five in 2009, four in 2010 and two in 2011, according to FBI statistics.
During the city's more violent years, Aurora police and city officials blamed gang tensions, in part, for higher slaying totals, according to media reports.
Richter, her restaurant manager, said she had worked full time over the summer and 20 to 30 hours a week during the school year.
"It would've been very unusual for her to miss work and not call," he said. "She was just very well-liked by the customers and the employees."
The victim's father, Ricardo Villalpando, said he is waiting for answers.
"She was a very beautiful girl," he said. " I don't have any idea why (this happened.)"
Ortiz Healy and Gutowski are Tribune reporters; Ward is a freelance reporter.Copyright © 2015, RedEye