PHOENIX – The mother of a slain Arizona woman says her daughter had recently revived an online dating profile in search of fairy tale romance, but was instead lured to an apartment by a man now accused of killing her and leaving the body in a shallow desert grave.
Police found 24-year-old Angela Russo’s body five weeks after police say she exchanged text messages and then rendezvoused with Lashawn Johnson.
The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office arrested 25-year-old Johnson — who was already in jail for an unrelated crime — on suspicion of second-degree murder, kidnapping, and other charges Sunday.
Russo’s mother, Diana Schalow, said Johnson used a fake name to lure her daughter into meeting him — a move sometimes known as catfishing. Sheriff’s detectives declined to confirm the use of the fake name or the website citing the ongoing investigation.
Schalow also said her daughter was too trusting.
She called Russo a “helpless romantic” who loved romantic comedies and Disney movies — her favorite princess was Ariel from “The Little Mermaid,” she said.
Schalow said the suspect tugged on Russo’s heartstrings, promising her the type of relationship she’d always dreamed of.
“He just played right into her. He knew what to do, I’m guessing,” Schalow said.
Russo left her mother’s home in Maricopa, about 35 miles south of Phoenix, to meet Johnson on April 19 and disappeared for a month, according to a police report.
Police recovered Russo’s body from a shallow grave in Tonopah, Arizona, about 50 miles west of Phoenix near a burned-out sedan.
Authorities have yet to determine the cause of Russo’s death.
Johnson’s roommate led police to the grim location May 25 after police found Johnson’s apartment using information from the Russo’s cellphone, according to the sheriff’s office.
An expert in social computing says predators sometimes use the Internet to form intimate relationships under false pretenses.
“Because you don’t have some of the physical cues, you might be more readily trusting than if you just met this person on the street,” said Pamela Wisniewski, an assistant professor of social computing and privacy at the University of Central Florida.
However, people need to understand that the same things can happen offline, Wisniewski said. It’s a problem with society, not with technology, she said.
Wisniewski recommends that people ask probing questions to verify someone’s authenticity online, and meet for the first time in a public setting.
During an initial appearance Sunday, a Maricopa County judge said the county will appoint Johnson a public defender.
The Maricopa County Sherriff’s Office has not returned multiple requests to interview the suspect.
Johnson told police that he’d spoken with Russo through text and that she was at his apartment on April 19, according to a police report.
He also told police he had been near the site where police discovered the body, but that he was in the area to do landscaping for a friend, the report said.
Johnson said he would pray for the family and was sorry for their loss, according to the report.