In Temple murder case: 'I saw his face pop up and it was just … chilling'

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Joshua Hupperterz (right), 29, was arrested in connection with the killing of Jenna Burleigh (left), a 22-year-old student at Temple University.

When Temple University student Natalie Abulhawa met Joshua Hupperterz for the first time last year, he asked her whether she wanted to hang out with him.

Those invitations continued throughout the year they lived across the street from each other, she said.

“It was actually a really common thing, almost every time I saw him … he was always outside smoking and he would always ask me and I would tell him I don’t smoke,” said Abulhawa, who never took up Hupperterz on his offers to smoke pot.

She was shocked to learn that her former neighbor is now charged with killing 22-year-old Temple student Jenna Burleigh. 

“I saw his face pop up and it was just like, I don’t know, chilling,” she said Sunday. “I realized that that could have been me at any point if I did decide to go over. … Last night I was having trouble sleeping.”

Hupperterz, 29, of Philadelphia, was arraigned Sunday morning on charges of murder, abuse of a corpse, and other crimes after police found Burleigh’s body Saturday at his grandmother’s property in Wayne County and, police said, he gave a partial confession. Hupperterz was ordered held without bail.

Abulhawa, a Temple junior and soccer player from Yardley, said she never spoke to Hupperterz for more than five or 10 minutes at a time. Once, she said, she witnessed him having an altercation with a woman who burst through his gate and punched him. She said she did not know who the woman was, but had heard screams and ran outside to see what was going on.

He offered her painkillers after she had knee surgery, she said, which she also declined. And when she told him she played soccer, she said, he told her that his father was a professional soccer player and that Hupperterz himself used to play for the Temple men’s soccer team. Abulhawa said she had searched online for evidence that he had played for Temple and suspected it was a lie.

A Temple spokesman said Sunday that Hupperterz had not played soccer for the university.

Records show that, in 1993, a man named Octavio Celso Hupperterz shared the same address with Joshua Hupperterz, who then would have been just 4 years old. Octavio Hupperterz was found dead in January of that year in a storage lot on Queen Street in Springfield, Montgomery County. Wrapped in a trash bag with his hands tied, the 32-year-old was shot in the back of the head, according to an Inquirer story from that time. Authorities believe he was Joshua Hupperterz’s father.

Hupperterz last took classes at Temple in the spring, according to a university spokesman. He transferred to Temple in 2014 from Lackawanna College and was a junior in the spring.

According to court records, Hupperterz pleaded guilty in 2013 to theft from a motor vehicle and in 2011 to possession of drug paraphernalia. In 2013, he allegedly broke into a Scranton home and stole electronics, credit cards, laundry detergent, and a half-keg of beer.

Police searched the home of Hupperterz’s mother in Jenkintown on Saturday, and later found Burleigh’s body at the home of Hupperterz’s grandmother in Wayne County. Police said they believe Burleigh was killed in Philadelphia and then her body was moved to the Jenkintown home before finally being taken to the Wayne County property.

Burleigh died from the combined effects of blunt trauma and strangulation, the Wayne County coroner said after conducting an autopsy on Sunday.

Burleigh, of Harleysville, transferred to Temple last week from Montgomery County Community College and was a commuter student. Her father reported her missing Thursday night. In new details released Sunday by police, Edward Burleigh said he had dinner with his daughter Wednesday and then dropped her off at a friend’s place near Temple because she said she had plans to go out and spend the night at a friend’s house.

Police said Hupperterz left Pub Webb, in the 1500 block of Cecil B. Moore Avenue, near Temple’s campus, early Thursday morning with Burleigh. Their departure was captured by surveillance camera. When Temple police questioned Hupperterz after Burleigh was reported missing, he told them he had been too drunk when he left the bar to remember who was with him, police said Sunday.

On Friday, Philadelphia detectives spoke with Hupperterz’s roommate, after which they obtained a search warrant for the apartment the two shared on the 1700 block of North 16th Street, police said Sunday. They found blood, large quantities of marijuana, and $20,000 in cash in that apartment.

Burleigh was majoring in film and media arts, and was passionate about social-justice issues and spoke out about racism, feminism, and LGBTQ rights.

Her friends and family continue to post remembrances on social media.

“Jenna had love for everyone no matter who they were,” one friend wrote on Facebook. “She fought so hard for the rights of everyone and loved harder than anyone I have ever known.”

Staff Writer Jonathan Lai contributed to this article.