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Decatur neighbor recalls calling 911 after discovering teen's body in apartment

Tania Rico was a 16-year-old sophomore at Austin High School. Police have not released the cause of death yet.

Posted: Oct 25, 2019 8:06 PM
Updated: Oct 26, 2019 10:05 AM

The scene at a Decatur apartment where a teen girl was found murdered was frantic and loud. That's according to neighbors who were at the scene as police found Tania Rico's body. 

The 16-year-old was a student at Austin High School. 

She was found Thursday afternoon inside a home at the Bluebird apartments on Bluebird Lane.

Two neighbors heard screaming and tried to help, but it was too late.

"I went to my car, and I was going to the gas station and I put my son in the car, and an old lady and three young girls came screaming at me and telling me to come help them," said Austin Hilliard.

It's that encounter that prompted Austin Hilliard to call 911 around 3:30 p.m. on Thursday. He said the frantic woman and teenagers had broken English and were hard to understand.

"They pulled me to the apartment and I didn't know what was going on," said Hilliard.

He said he didn't feel comfortable going inside, so he turned around.

Another neighbor, Austin Hayes, said he heard the screaming, too, and went outside to investigate.

"I walked outside and I seen my neighbor talking to him, and he waived me over, and he was talking to them and they were screaming for help," said Hayes.

Decatur police arrived within minutes and found 16-year-old Tania Rico dead. They originally said she died by a gunshot, but now say that's not the case. 

Police say 19-year-old Bernandino Matias was picked up overnight in Knoxville, Tennessee on a murder charge. We don't know how the two knew each other, but neighbors are still rattled.

"I've never seen anything like this, so it's a shock to me, definitely," said Hayes.

Decatur police say they're in the process of bringing Matias back from Knoxville. They haven't released any details on how Rico died.

Rico was considered to be quiet by some of her teachers, but she was on their minds as word spread of her murder. Counselors have been at Austin High School in Decatur all day, where students learned their classmate was murdered.

The deputy superintendent of Decatur City Schools, Dwight Satterfield, said the district learned of the death before police released the information to the public.

"The staff at both schools thought very much of her. She was a very quiet and reserved student," said Satterfield. "We worked with the Decatur Police Department yesterday and had a heads up that this was going to impact our student population."

On social media, Rico's friends referred to her as their sister and best friend. Satterfield said the suspect, 19-year-old Bernandino Matias, had been a student at Austin, but did not return this year.

Neither the school district, nor police, have said how Tania knew the suspect, but counselors were on hand Friday at both Austin High and the Excel Center, where she also took courses.

"It's a tragic situation, but it seems to be isolated simply and from what we know, it's a domestic situation," said Satterfield.

Police have not said how Matias ended up in Knoxville, just that he was arrested around 3:15 a.m. on Friday. They're in the process of bringing him back to Decatur.

At the scene Thursday afternoon, police said the victim had been shot. Now, they say a gun was not used, but haven't said how Tania died.

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