BELEN — It’s been nearly five weeks since anyone has heard from or seen Jessica Montoya, and her family is desperate for answers.
Jessica, 35, has been missing since Friday, Nov. 25. While that was the last time anyone has heard from her, police and family members say it was the day before Thanksgiving — Wednesday, Nov. 23 — that anyone has actually seen her.
“It’s been hard,” said Randy Montoya, Jessica’s uncle. “All we want — all we need — is answers.”
Those answers are not coming in as fast as he wants, and claims the Belen Police Department has been “dragging their feet” on the investigation.
Belen Police Chief James Harris disagrees, saying he has four investigators working the case, including himself.
“We have done everything, at this point, that we feel we can, including a lot of technical data we are receiving. I’ve also interviewed a lot of people,” Harris said. “I am not going to jeopardize this investigation by sharing that information with the public, including the family.
“Do I feel the family is just very concerned? Yes, I do. Just because I haven’t shared all the information I have with them, and because I haven’t given them a step-by-step instruction of what I’ve been doing, does not mean that we are taking this lightly.”
Jessica has an 8-year-old son, Daniel, and has been asking for his mother, Montoya said.
“It’s been very hard on him; he’s struggling,” Montoya said. “He had to celebrate his eighth birthday without his mother. He wants to know when his mom is coming back. All we can tell him is we’re looking for her.”
Jessica, a Belen native, has had her fair share of problems. Montoya said his niece has struggled with drug addiction on and off for 10 to 15 years, and believes she returned to the habit in the last five or six months.
The first time anyone suspected something was wrong was on Monday, Nov. 28, when someone at Daniel’s school, Gil Sanchez Elementary, called Jessica’s aunt, Eileen, to inform her Jessica hadn’t yet picked him up.
“My sister, Eileen, had communicated with her the day after Thanksgiving through text,” Montoya said. “She said she was probably going to go to the casino — Isleta Casino. That’s the last time anyone heard from her.”
Daniel stayed with his aunt for the weekend, and they hadn’t heard from Jessica again.
“What happened was my sister had him over the weekend, took him to school on Monday, and Jessica was supposed to pick him up after school,” Montoya said. “When the school called Eileen that Jessica didn’t pick up Daniel, Eileen drove down and picked him up.”
Worried about Jessica, Eileen went to her house on Torres Drive in Belen.
“She went straight to my niece’s house but she wasn’t there. There was no sign of her,” he said.
Jessica’s car wasn’t there and numerous calls by Eileen went unanswered. Knowing this wasn’t normal behavior for her niece, she called and filed a missing persons report with the Belen Police Department.
“It wasn’t unusual that we didn’t talk to her over the weekend, but what was unusual was she didn’t pick up her son,” Montoya said.
It was later that week that Montoya and his sister met with Harris, and told him none of this was normal for Jessica.
“(Harris) said, ‘It’s not a crime to be a missing person,’” Montoya said. “We told him we understood that, but it wasn’t normal for Jessica to do this, and we believed Jessica is in danger.”
Jessica, Montoya said, would have never willingly abandon her son.
Montoya said his sister spoke to one of Jessica’s friends who told her she had seen her the day after Thanksgiving.
“She asked my niece if she could spend the night at her house, and Jessica said no, that she had plans,” Montoya said. “That was the last we knew of.”
Montoya said he was also aware that Albuquerque police had run Jessica’s license plate on Nov. 25 to her 2002 Toyota Camry somewhere in the Duke City.
“We gave all this information to the police chief, the contact information to all of her friends — everything,” Montoya said. “We told them the truth that she was a meth addict. Bad choices come with bad behavior, I guess.”
Montoya also heard there was an altercation at his niece’s house the day before Thanksgiving, but said those involved are denying they were there.
Because both Eileen and Jessica are the registered owners of the car, Eileen gave Harris permission to report the car stolen. On Friday, Dec. 9, Bernalillo County sheriff’s deputies found the Camry near the intersection of 98th Street and Avalon — an area where stolen cars are often dumped, Harris confirms.
BPD took the car and transported it to Belen. Harris said they have been able to search the vehicle and have collected evidence.
“I don’t think Chief Harris did anything on this case until they found the car,” Montoya said. “I don’t think he took this seriously. It wasn’t until they had the car that they treated this case differently.”
Harris said Montoya’s allegations are false, saying investigating this case has been a process.
“Something that has frustrated me, and the family as well, is that in a missing persons case, until you can show some form of criminal activity we can’t do a lot,” he said.
Since finding the car, the manner of the investigation has changed.
“The car gave us a treasure trove of information,” the chief said. “Other items we’re working on obtaining now will give us even further information — including technical and DNA information, but the results will take time to come in.”
While Montoya concedes his niece has had her share of problems, he describes Jessica as someone with “a heart of gold.”
“I want to believe she’s alive, because she would make an attempt to escape if she was,” Montoya said. “I just don’t know.”
In an effort to prompt the Belen Police Department to “properly investigate this case,” Montoya had his attorney send a letter to the chief claiming they weren’t properly investigating Jessica’s disappearance.
Harris says he and his detectives are actively investigating this case, and understands the family’s frustrations, and are not going to be deterred by the family’s allegations.
“It’s understandable that the family wants answers, but just because I’m not sharing information with him doesn’t mean we’re not gaining information,” the chief said. “I’ve told the whole family they need to let me do my job. I’ve done this a time or two.”
“I’m not trying to interfere with the investigation, but I’m going to do everything I can to prod and prompt (Chief Harris) to do his job,” Montoya said. “I’ve heard he’s a good investigator, so we’ll see.”
Harris is as confident as he can be that he and his detectives can solve this case.
“Whenever you’re dealing with a missing person case, it can go in a lot of different directions,” Harris said. “It can get frustrating often times, but I’m confident we are taking the proper steps to solve this case. I do not feel this case will have a happy ending.”
Jessica Montoya is described to have brown hair, brown eyes, 5-feet, 4-inches tall, and weighing 180 pounds.
If anyone has information regarding her whereabouts or about what happened to her, call the Belen Police Department at 505-865-9130.
Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.