SAN JOSE -- A 43-year-old San Jose man has been charged with murder in the mysterious death of a popular East San Jose schoolyard supervisor whose body was found inside her vehicle earlier this week after she had not been seen for three days.
Oscar Antonio Ayala appeared in a San Jose courtroom Friday, casting an imposing presence on the gallery at 6 foot 8 inches tall. He was clad in the red jumpsuit reserved for murder defendants and shackled at the wrists and ankles.
Ayala stood silently during the brief hearing and did not enter a plea before he was taken back to the Santa Clara County jail, where he is being held without bail.
Case files about the homicide have been sealed by the court, and prosecutors declined to elaborate on Ayala's connection to Reina Figueroa, 49, who was found dead Tuesday afternoon inside a minivan next to San Antonio Elementary School off East San Antonio Street and King Road.
Police have only said Ayala and Figueroa knew each other. How Figueroa died is also being kept under wraps as an investigation continues.
Friends of Figueroa who attended Friday's court hearing said they didn't recognize Ayala and could not recall whether his name was ever mentioned by the victim. They asked not to be named out of safety and privacy concerns.
Relatives told this newspaper that Figueroa stepped out of her East San Jose duplex to run errands on Saturday and never returned. On Tuesday, her husband found Figueroa's black minivan parked on San Antonio Street. Her body was inside.
San Jose police Friday issued a news release identifying Ayala as the suspect. The statement said Ayala, who weighs about 300 pounds, may have been seen by residents in the area of San Antonio Street and Jackson Avenue over the Labor Day weekend.
Figueroa worked at Selma Olinder Elementary School, less than a mile from her family's home on the cul-de-sac where East San Antonio Street abuts Highway 101. She was found blocks away from her home.
Anyone with information about the case can contact San Jose homicide detectives at 408-277-5283 or leave a tip with Silicon Valley Crime Stoppers at 408-947-STOP (7867) or with www.svcrimestoppers.org.
Contact Mark Gomez at 408-920-5869. Follow him at Twitter.com/MarkMgomez.