Herman Sanchez thought his friend Sabrina was joking when she called April 2 to say authorities had hauled her away in handcuffs and that she would soon be leaving Florida.
Sanchez had known Sabrina and her boyfriend, John, for more than two years. They even lived with him for a spell. They seemed inseparable, a quiet couple who enjoyed strolling on the beach and caring for a colony of stray cats in their Miami Beach neighborhood, Sanchez said.
"When she called me at work and said she had been arrested, I couldn't believe it," he recalled. "She told me 'I'm not who you think I am. We are fugitives.' "
The woman neighbors knew as "Sabrina Rodriguez" was really Teista Burwell, a 23-year-old Ladson woman whose family had been searching frantically for her since she went missing two years ago. "John" was actually David Kornahrens, who had been the prime suspect in her disappearance.
Both were arrested on outstanding warrants stemming from crimes in the Charleston area. Burwell faces charges of forgery and possession of a stolen motor vehicle, while Kornahrens faces counterfeiting and robbery charges.
Burwell's family had not heard from her since she disappeared from a parking lot at Northwoods Mall the day after Christmas in 2007. When she called her father several days after her arrest, she offered only vague details about her life on the run.
Sanchez, 49, said he never suspected his friends were fugitives. He said he had known Kornahrens for about three years, but had lost touch with him until the couple unexpectedly showed up on his doorstep last November in a rainstorm. Kornahrens told him they needed a place to stay for the night. Sanchez said he invited them in, not realizing they would end up staying for three months.
Sanchez said Burwell and Kornahrens seemed to be joined at the hip the entire time.
"You would never see them apart. They even showered together," he said. "If (Kornahrens) got up at 2 in the morning and wanted to get a soda, he'd wake her up to go with him. She seemed to worship him."
Sanchez said he eventually helped the couple get an efficiency apartment along the beach. For several months, they ran a small grocery store in the neighborhood.
More recently, Kornahrens stayed home and collected disability payments for a back injury while Burwell worked at a deli. Kornahrens always accompanied her to and from work, he said.
The pair had a soft spot for cats and took it upon themselves to feed a colony of about 100 strays in the neighborhood, Sanchez said. Kornahrens could be prickly around other people, "but he loved cats," he said.
Burwell did as well. As she was being taken into custody, she persuaded police to let her call Grateful Paws, a Florida animal rescue organization, to arrange for someone to temporarily care for the four cats in her apartment, said Tia Williams, a rescue volunteer.
"She knew if animal services took the cats, as is customary, they would already be euthanized by now," Williams said.
Williams, who never met Burwell, said she has been visiting her apartment daily and feeding the cats.
The rent has been paid through the end of the month, but it's unclear what will happen after that. Williams hopes to return the cats to Burwell, who remains in the Charleston County jail, or find them new homes.
"We can't do this indefinitely," she said. "We would love to reunite them with her, but I just don't know if that's possible."