Mirjana Puhar was a contestant on Cycle 21 of American's Next Top Model, a fan favorite praised by The Backlot writer Eric Shorey for her "stunning looks" and "a lovable feisty attitude." In February 2015, tragedy struck when she was killed her Charlotte, North Carolina home, along with her boyfriend Jonathan Alarado and roommate Justar Gonzaga-Garcia.
Mirijana was only 19 years old. Emmauel Hernandez was arrested for the murder. According to the Charlotte Observer, police believe the victims knew their murderer, and that the murders were drug related.
A Hard Life
When Mirjana was 5, her family fled their native Serbia due to the violence of the Kosovo War. They settled in the U.S. struggling with deep poverty. With hard work, the family went from having only $50 to creating a comfortable life. Mirana, however, was not the easiest daughter.
In an interview with Théonden James published by the Charlotte Observer, she called herself a "wild child," and said that growing up "I went out, had fun, partied, whatever – I didn't really have the best influences around me." She dropped out of high school, working several jobs before entering the world of professional modeling at 17.
Understandably, she was not forthcoming about the details behind all of behavior, only saying "I don't want people dabbling in my personal life, and I'm pretty sure they're gonna do that after seeing the show." It is still unclear exactly what she meant. There are a few celebrities who have come out and talked about their past struggles.
Mirjana's friend Brenda Ische was interviewed by the Daily Mail, and said the first time they met "Her smile was radiant, and she hugged me the first time she saw me. It was sincere, and warmed my heart...We were instantly friends." She did not believe believed Mirjana had used drugs, "Because she possessed a self-confidence that wouldn't have needed it."
Of course, there are plenty of "high functioning addicts," capable of hiding their addiction under a life that, to others, looks happy and successful. There is a lot that is unknown about Mirjana's personal life. She has no criminal record, and any speculation would be disrespectful and hurtful to her family and loved ones currently in mourning.
What we do know is that within a year of poor life choices, she had a change of heart. "I was like, 'Aw, man, I don't really want to go down this road." After distancing herself from her "wild friends," she started working on a diploma from a community college. She had just completed her GED at a community college before entering America's Next Top Model, at 18, the show's youngest contestant.
In a You-Tube video encouraging people to vote for her on the show, she said that what makes her stand out from the competition was "knowing myself and having confidence, and just being real with everyone." This indicating a encouraging process of growth, reflected in the hopeful and positive direction in which her life seemed to be heading.
At the time of her murder, she was looking forward to moving on with her modeling career, leaving Charlotte for New York or L.A. The Charlotte Observer reported, "She said she wasn't worried about the past," and believed, "the worst was behind her. That she had no regrets about what she'd done or the way she lived." A life that appeared to have a lot of joy and potential was tragically cut short by violence.
Drugs and Violence
There is a lot that is unknown and still being investigated about this case, and it would be unwise to jump to conclusions about exactly what was the cause behind Mirjana's tragic murder. However, it is undeniable that drugs and the illegal drug trade frequently play a role in many untold tragedies and senseless murders.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, around 33 percent of people in prison were under the influence of drugs while committing their crime, and 17 percent said that money for drugs was the central motivation in committing their crime. A study looking at homicides in Philadelphia between 1996 and 1999 found that one killing in four was directly related to drugs.
The underground system of selling, making, and distributing drugs is often controlled by people who resort to killing and violence. Frequently, discussions of drug abuse focus on the costs to personal health, but the quest for sobriety also improves communities and reduces tragedies and senseless deaths.