Today marks three years since the disappearance of Rita Gutierrez-Garcia and Longmont police are still looking for leads on the case.
When she disappeared, Gutierrez-Garcia, a 34-year-old mother of three boys, was just months from officially celebrating receiving a certificate to become a paralegal and was looking for a job that would allow her to help women and children in domestic violence situations, her mother, Diane Romero said.
Romero said her entire family is close and celebrates everything together. Gutierrez-Garcia was known for her cooking, “she liked to cook. I loved the way Rita cooked. She would come over and cook for me,” she said.
For her sons, Gutierrez-Garcia would make baked goods.
“Her kids don’t get much baked goods from me because everything I do is store bought,” Romero said with a smile in her voice as she remembered the food her daughter would make for the family.
Gutierrez-Garcia had been out celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with loved ones when she went missing. She texted a friend that she had found a ride home for the evening and was last seen leaving 3’s Bar, 333 Main St., between 2:15 and 3:15 a.m. March 18, 2018, and has not been seen since.
Romero still does not know what might have happened three years ago to lead to her daughter’s disappearance but said Gutierrez-Garcia was not a confrontational person or one who sought trouble, “she avoided it,” Romero said. Although not confrontational, Romero said, her daughter was a fighter.
“I’m sure that night, whatever happened, I know that my daughter fought … she fought as much she could,” Romero said.
Juan Jose Figueroa Jr., currently serving a 92-year prison sentence after being convicted of sexually assaulting a woman he met at a bar in Longmont, is the prime suspect in Gutierrez-Garcia’s disappearance, Longmont Detective Cody Clark said.
Police in July 2018 found forensic evidence linking Figueroa to Gutierrez-Garcia. According to a news release issued at the time, police believed Gutierrez-Garcia to be deceased and “information that could suggest Rita’s remains may have been placed between Longmont and Rollins Pass. Likely in an isolated area, maybe on a remote dirt road. Another spot was the area around Rabbit Mountain and Rocky Mt. Arsenal. These are wide open areas, but we are asking the public, if they are taking a hike or going on a walk to pay attention to the ditches, culverts, etc.”
In October 2018, Omar Holguin, brother of Gutierrez-Garcia, shared a message on Facebook asking people to search “property lines, fence lines, abandoned buildings, sheds, ditches and ravines. Look for anything suspicious or out of the ordinary. Check for unusual mounds of dirt. If you find anything, call 911 immediately.”
In a comment on the post Holhuin pleaded, “As days, weeks, months pass by, people tend to forget about the missing. Everyone has their own lives, their own problems. Please take a few minutes out of your day to keep sharing Rita's story, flyers, news articles.
Please don't let Rita's disappearance case turn into a cold case, we all know nobody deserves this. Do the right thing. Please don't let more days go by with no clues / Answers. All it takes is one anonymous tip. Thank you.”
Longmont police “are still actively working on the case,” Clark said, as is Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty.
Dougherty in December told the Daily Camera, “Rita Gutierrez-Garcia will not be forgotten. The DA’s Office is working closely with the Longmont Police Department to bring her killer to justice. This is a very active investigation. Obviously, the investigation is more complex because Rita has not been found. We owe it to Rita’s family, who have suffered greatly, to keep working this case — and we will.”
The family still hikes and looks for Gutierrez-Garcia.
“Sometimes it is just difficult because you walk a few miles and there’s nothing and then you still see more river or more open space. Sometimes that gets a little difficult because … I feel a bit disappointed. It gets very emotional,” Romero said.
Despite the emotion, Romero said she enjoys taking Gutierrez-Garcia’s sons out for hikes to enjoy life, not to look for their mom.
“I don’t want everything for them to be seeking their mom. I do want them to be able to enjoy moments of just life itself, just to have moments of tranquility and to have fun and get away,” she said.
Police continue to offer a $10,000 reward for information that could lead to an arrest or the location of her body.
“No detail is insignificant,” Clark said, adding police are looking into everything and something small could be the key to bringing closure to Gutierrez-Garcia’s family.
In March 2019, a bench in Thompson Park was dedicated to the memory of Gutierrez-Garcia. A story by the Longmont Observer stated “because Rita’s remains have not been found, this memorial offers a place for those who loved her, to remember her and be close to her."
“The anniversary of Rita’s disappearance is a hard time for the family. Any support and help is appreciated,” Clark said.
This year the family plans to decorate the bench dedicated to Gutierrez-Garcia.
Romero said she and her family are very private. However, they have cherished the notes, flowers, words of kindness and other support they have received from the community.
“It is nice to know that people think about her,” Romero said.
Anyone with information on the disappearance of Rita Gutierrez-Garcia is asked to call the Longmont Police Department at 303-774-3700 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. No detail may be too small and callers can remain anonymous.