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A Year Later, Still No Answers For Parents Of Missing Yolo Teens

Sally Schilling/Capital Public Radio

Lola Rios Gutierrez has a magnet on her car depicting her son Enrique and his friend Elijah's information. They both went missing a year ago. The FBI is offering a $5,000 reward for information on either of the boys, but she says it's not enough.

Sally Schilling/Capital Public Radio

Alicia Moore originally had big plans for her son Elijah's 18th birthday. 

"What I was planning on doing was what I did with my other two sons. A 'right of passage' you know, from me to them, just to encourage them, you know, to keep pushing forward," she said.

Instead, she's holding a vigil for him tonight in Woodland to raise awareness that he's been missing for a year. Elijah disappeared from Woodland on Nov. 4, 2016­ — the day after his birthday. His friend Enrique Rios disappeared from Esparto 18 days before that, on Oct. 17.

The last time Lola Rios Gutierrez saw her son Enrique he was going to bed in their home. The next day she woke up and he was gone from his bedroom.

“The only thing he took was his shoes on his feet and his phone,” Rios Gutierrez said. “To me, that looked like someone who was just gonna go out real quick and come right back.”

The last she heard from him was through some strange text messages. 

“Saying that he needed some time and he’ll be back and he just wanted some space,” she said.

But the texts were written in complete sentences, and he didn’t usually text that way. “The detectives said that the messages that I was receiving in the morning were not from him,” she said. “Even I told them from the beginning, that’s not how he texts.”

Moore said her son Elijah and Enrique were both in a paid construction training program in Woodland. 

“I was excited for him, because he would get up every morning. There was no fight you know, ‘get up and go to school.’ He would just get up and go.”

The night before he went missing was his 17th birthday. 

"That night I had an opportunity to tell him how proud I was of him for making the right decisions and choices."

The next day he disappeared after going to cash his check. He told his mom he would be back soon, but she didn’t hear from him again. His friend did get a text message saying he was going to the Bay Area, but she said it didn't sound like Elijah. 

Rios Gutierrez said law enforcement was slow to get involved initially because the thought the boys were runaways.

"We told that to the detectives, but until they could put pieces together they couldn’t say that it wasn’t runaway,"she said. "Like a month and a half later they came to that conclusion and I think that took a little too long, because they lost some time.”

Enrique had run away before, she said. “But that was different because he would come back when we weren’t home and we could see there were dishes in the sink or the shower had just been used.”

A missing persons poster for friends Elijah and Enrique, who went missing within 18 days of each other.  

Gina Swankie from the FBI's Sacramento field office said her department is working to build the investigation.

“We certainly have information that we’re pursuing this continues to be an active case," Swankie said. "It’s not something that’s been put on the shelf and forgotten. We feel it’s incredibly important to locate both Enrique and Elijah and certainly provide some answers to their families as to where they’ve been and what happened.”

She said the boys' cases are related.

"The two young men have too many connections and too many similarities for them not to be related, so at this point we believe there is some sort of connectivity in the two disappearances.”

Hear an extended interview with Alicia Moore

 

Moore said after Enrique went missing she asked Elijah about him. 

“I said have you seen Enrique, he was like ‘no mom,’ she said. "I said, 'are you sure?' He’s like, ‘Mom, I’m sure, I have not seen Enrique.’ I could tell that he really had not seen Enrique.”

Now it’s been a year and she has little new information. She said she’s angry and hurt. 

“I’m hurt because he didn’t get to do any of the other things I see the other kids doing," she said, fighting back tears. "He didn’t get to do any of the things I see other kids doing. His high school graduation came and he wasn’t there." Her other son had to walk across the stage and get his diploma.

When asked what roadblocks are holding up the investigation, Swankie said she couldn't give those details.

When the FBI got involved in the cases in February, the bureau announced $5,000 rewards for information on either boys’ disappearance.

“To some people, $5,000 is a lot, but to most, it’s not that much, and if they’re scared of sharing peoples' names because of the danger that they could be in. I don’t think $5,000 is enough,” Rios Gutierrez said, adding that they have started a GoFundMe page to raise more reward money.

Hear an extended interview with Lola Rios Gutierrez

 

Moore said she's out doing her own investigating. 

“I’ll pass out single cigarettes and talk to people and ask them have they heard anything, make sure they have my number,” she said. “They can call me because they don’t want to talk to the police.”

Elijah's vigil is being held at 6 p.m. on Purity Plaza in Woodland near the Dutch Bros. 

"I wanted there to be a theme for him because he loved the 49ers," Moore said, adding that there will be birthday cake and a balloon release, with red and gold balloons.

Rios Gutierrez said people who have information should come forward. She wants them to imagine it’s their own child who is missing.

“I always explain it this way: you go to the store and you lose your child for half a second and you’re just panicked,” she said. “That’s the feeling that we have all the time. Anything, no matter how big or how small they think it might be, could help us bring them home.”

Anyone with information is encouraged to contact the FBI: 1-800-225-5324, or contact the Woodland Police Department: (530) 666-2411 or the Yolo County Sheriff's Office: (530) 666-8282. You can leave tips anonymously. 

Sally Schilling

Reporter

Sally Schilling is a Davis native and a graduate of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She has reported on redwood poachers robbing national forests in Humboldt County and the dangers of melting tropical glaciers in the Peruvian Andes.  Read Full Bio 

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