Rio Rancho Police make arrest in death of 6-year-old Ariana Romeo

Crime

Nearly two months after a 6-year-old girl was found dead in a Rio Rancho home, police have finally made an arrest in the case. 

Ariana Romeo and her mother were living at the home for a short time, when the girl was raped and killed. 

Friday, police arrested 21-year-old Leland Hust, who was also living in that house, based on recent DNA results. 

Hust walked into the police station Friday morning to be interviewed by detectives, but when he walked out he was in handcuffs. 

In August, Rio Rancho Police were called to the home on Moonstone Drive near Highway 528 and Northern. 

Officers found 6-year-old Ariana dead, half naked on a bloody foam mattress in a makeshift bedroom of the home. 

Search warrants executed at the home show detectives collected a bloody towel, tissues, a princess pillow and a Playboy magazine – all found near her body. 

There was a rope outside by the trash, and three pairs of men’s underwear. 

Police say a big part of their cases depended on DNA results. Those results came back after two months, with Hust being their main suspect. 

KRQE News 13 was there as Hust showed up at the police station Friday morning to speak with detectives. What he didn’t know is the evidence was already stacked against him. 

“DNA is one element of this investigation that we do have in place, along with the many interviews of the multiple individuals that were either at the home or involved in this investigation,” Capt. Ron Vigil said. 

Detectives say preliminary information from OMI show that the 6-year-old was strangled to death. 

According to Rio Rancho Police, the investigation is ongoing and could result in more charges for Hust.

His interview with police lasted about six hours. Police did not say if he admitted to killing and raping the 6-year-old. 

Police also did not say how Ariana and her mother knew the family, but KRQE News 13 has learned the duo had plans to move out of the house that week. 

Rio Rancho Police also did not say how Hust is related to the owner of the home, who was also arrested Friday evening in a separate case. 

Winston Scates Sr, 63, is facing charges of criminal sexual contact of a minor. Police say through their investigation in the Ariana case, they discovered that Scates allegedly inappropriately touched at least one other child. 

Police would not elaborate much on that case, but did say they have been looking at older and new accusations. 

KRQE News 13 first reported on the investigation that took place at Scates’ home back in 2011, in which a 4-year-old girl said was molested by a man named “Papa.” 

No one was arrested in the case, though, due to a lack of cooperation with the girl’s guardians. 

Friday night, neighbors expressed relief that the case was finally moving along, and that someone was being held accountable for this little girl’s death. 

“This matter hopefully can resolve where it’s going to benefit our neighborhood…where we can get it back to normal,” Andrew Silva said.

Not only neighbors, but people all around the state have been wondering why it took so long to make an arrest. Police say they just wanted to make sure the investigation was done right. 

“We recognize that the community has been passionate about this incident involving an innocent 6-year-old girl. We want the community to know that we too are passionate about justice for Ariana,” Chief Stewart Steele said. 

At this point, the case heads to a grand jury where Hust could be indicted.

Related Coverage: 

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Latest Video

Now Trending on KRQE.com

New Mexico Hourly Forecasts ⟶

Albuquerque Hourly Forecast

Don't Miss

MORE IN DON'T MISS

Photo Galleries

MORE PHOTO GALLERIES

News Resources - Maps

MORE NEWS RESOURCES