A man convicted of sexually abusing a young girl nearly 20 years ago was found dead in his jail cell Thursday night, hours after police named him as a person of interest in the disappearance and death of his victim's mother.
Montgomery County police on Thursday identified Fernando Asturizaga, now 51, as a person of interest in the death of Alison Thresher.
A guard found Asturizaga unresponsive in his jail cell at the Western Correctional Institution in Cumberland, Maryland, about 8:45 p.m., police say. He was then pronounced dead.
The Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Service said it appeared Asturizaga took his own life. A medical examiner will release the official cause of death.
Asturizaga had been serving a more than 100-year sentence for sexually abusing Thresher's daughter.
Thresher, 45, disappeared from her Bethesda apartment in the 4500 block of Sangamore Lane in May 2000. The Washington Post copy editor's car was found the next day, about a mile away near the C & O Canal trail.
Her body was never found.
In 1999, Thresher was in the middle of a contentious divorce and was concerned about grooming behavior Asturizaga was exhibiting toward her daughter, Hannah Thresher, police said Thursday. Asturizaga was her daughter's Spanish teacher, and Alison Thresher's ex-husband employed him as a babysitter for their children.
Alison Thresher wrote letters to Asturizaga, her daughter's school and her attorney voicing her concern about the "inappropriate relationship" between Asturizaga and her daughter, police say.
Despite her concerns, Asturizaga was still allowed to babysit her children when they were in her ex-husband's custody.
In February 2000, Alison Thresher got into an altercation with Asturizaga outside her ex-husband's home about his continued contact with Hannah Thresher, police say.
Alison Thresher was last seen May 23, 2000, after having dinner with her parents.
She had been scheduled to start a new job with The Washington Post the next day, but early that morning, a neighbor reported hearing cries coming from her apartment.
A short time later, a man was seen running through the neighborhood where her car would later be found.
"A few months later, when I expressed frustration at his lack of empathy towards my grief over the loss of my mother, FA [Fernando Asturizaga] said to me: 'I thought things would be easier for us now that she's gone,'" Hannah Thresher said during a news conference Thursday.
In 2010, Hannah Thresher told police about the sexual abuse she endured at the hands of Asturizaga from 1999 until 2001. When the abuse began, Asturizaga was 32 years old; Hannah Thresher was 10.
Asturizaga was convicted on multiple counts of child abuse and rape and was sentenced to more than 100 years in prison in 2012.
He refused to talk to police about Alison Thresher's disappearance after his arrest.
"That man was by definition a sociopath. He was almost a professional at infiltrating groups of people, schools, especially anywhere with a child," Alison Thatcher's son, Sam Thresher, said at the Thursday news conference.
Sam Thresher, now 28, said he has a service dog because of the trauma he experienced after his mother's death.
The lead detective in Hannah Thresher's case was later transferred to the cold case unit and asked to reopen the investigation into Alison Thresher's death in 2016.
Based on recent DNA analysis, police now believe Alison Thresher was murdered inside her apartment and that her body was taken to an unknown location. Police say the suspect tried to destroy evidence at the scene.
Police say the investigation into Alison Thresher's disappearance and death is ongoing. No additional details about the case will be released at this time.
Anyone with information about her death is asked to call police at 240-773-5070.
Asturizaga was housed in the Western Correctional Institution in Cumberland. The Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services is investigating Asturizaga's death. Montgomery County cold case detectives responded Thursday night to the correctional facility where Asturizaga died and are coordinating with their investigators and officials, police said.
"As with all inmate deaths, the department’s Internal Investigative Division is investigating along with Maryland State Police. The Maryland Office of the Chief Medical Examiner will make the final determination on the cause of death,” a corrections department spokesperson said.