'A phone call I've been waiting for 10 years': Police chief responds to arrest in Jeremiah Oliver murder case

Alberto Sierra Jr. is arraigned in Worcester Superior Court Thursday. He is charged with murder and disinterring of a body in the death of 5-year-old Jeremiah Oliver a decade ago.

WORCESTER - Ten years ago, Ernest F. Martineau was a Fitchburg Police Department sergeant in charge of the initial investigation into the disappearance and murder of 5-year-old Jeremiah Oliver.

Today, Martineau is the chief of police and a decade later is still haunted by the Oliver case. But Wednesday, Martineau received a call he has been hoping for since the case started - Alberto L. Sierra Jr., 32, who at the time was the boyfriend of the boy’s mother, was indicted by a Worcester grand jury for Jeremiah’s murder.

More: Man charged in decade-old case of Jeremiah Oliver, boy found in suitcase off I-190

“Yesterday (Wednesday), I received a phone call that I’ve been waiting for 10 years,” Martineau said, addressing a pool of reporters outside the Worcester Central Courthouse. “I was elated to get that phone call yesterday.”

Over those 10 years, Martineau said the Fitchburg Police Department vowed to never give up on the case until justice was served.

“We made a commitment 10 years ago that we would never give up and we would never forget and that came to fruition yesterday,” Martineau said. “That phone call I received meant the world to me because I know what this case meant to our investigation. And here we are today seeing the beginning of justice to happen.”

Fitchburg police Chief Ernest Martineau reflects on the arrest of Alberto Sierra in the murder of 5-year-old Jeremiah Oliver a decade ago. Martineau spoke outside Worcester Superior Court, where Sierra was arraigned Thursday.

Jeremiah, who lived with his mother in Fitchburg, was discovered missing in late 2013. His body was found on April 18, 2014, stuffed in a suitcase off Interstate 190 in Sterling.

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner determined Jeremiah’s death to be a homicide and listed the cause of death as “homicidal violence of undetermined etiology.”

Martineau said the specifics of the Oliver case is enough to haunt any parent.

“Anything that happens to a child just eats at your soul. And, in a case like this where the body was on 190, something you drive by every day, it continues to reflect on your memory,” Martineau said. “Coming in today to the courthouse, I drove by that. It’s always present.”

Mother charged, sentenced

Sierra and the boy's mother, Elsa Oliver, faced multiple charges in the days and years after the boy's death. Some of the charges involved assaults of Jeremiah and his siblings. Both were charged with kidnapping and endangerment of a child. Both were sentenced to jail.

But until Wednesday, no one had been charged with the killing. It wasn't until February 2016, about two years after the body was found, that authorities deemed the case a homicide.

Jeremiah, who lived with his mother in an apartment at 276 Kimball St., Fitchburg, was last seen alive by relatives on Sept. 14, 2013. But it wasn't until December that authorities became involved. The boy’s sister told school officials that he was missing.

The Fitchburg community responded quickly upon learning the boy had not been seen for months. A search of the neighborhood by friends was organized, and flyers with the boy's image were distributed.

Fitchburg and state police, aided by tracking dogs, scoured the area.

A state Department of Child & Family Services worker assigned to the case and their supervisor were fired for failing to conduct home checks on the boy. A third DCF employee was disciplined.

Sierra and Else Oliver were charged with child abuse within days.

Two weeks later, about 350 people filled Rollstone Congregational Church in Fitchburg for the boy's funeral. Jeremiah's father, Jose Oliver, who lived in Connecticut at the time, joined the mourners in remembering the boy who loved Spider-Man.

“The case rocked the conscience of the city of Fitchburg,” Martineau said. “At one point, we were Jeremiah’s family, 45,000 residents in the city, and we are here today, beginning the process of healing.”

Sierra was arraigned Thursday in Worcester Superior Court on a charge of murder in connection with the killing of Oliver. He was also indicted on a charge of disinterring of a body. Sierra pleaded not guilty to both counts in front of Superior Court Judge Karin M. Bell.

Sierra was ordered held without bail pending a bail hearing on May 25.

Assistant District Attorney Courtney Sans and Marissa Elkins, the attorney of the defense, were also present for the arraignment.

When asked if this day finally gives a voice to Jeremiah, Martineau said, “We gave him a voice from the day this came to our attention.”

On behalf of the city of Fitchburg and its residents, Martineau thanked the state police, Worcester County District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr.’s office, and current and retired investigators of the Fitchburg Police Department for never giving up and continuing to push forward on this case.

This article originally appeared on Telegram & Gazette: Fitchburg man arraigned for murder of Jeremiah Oliver in decade-old case