After finding a burnt car with human remains inside on the far reaches of Belen’s west mesa this weekend, local law enforcement officers are trying to locate a Belen man.
Valencia County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Joseph Rowland said after the remains were found by fire personnel on the afternoon of Friday, April 10, deputies were dispatched to the scene.
“The vehicle was identified as belonging to a Belen resident, Gilbert Cordova,” Rowland said. “Deputies made contact with Mr. Cordova’s family and they reported him as missing.”
Cordova was last seen by his family the morning of Friday, April 10, leaving the family’s home, the lieutenant said. His vehicle was found that afternoon about 12 miles west of Belen, near the Rio Puerco.
Video surveillance at the Belen Walmart shows Cordova at the store at 8:17 a.m., that day. He was last seen wearing a gray t-shirt, with the words Horizon Transport on the upper left breast in blue lettering. He had on denim Wrangler jeans, white athletic shoes and was wearing a baseball cap.
The vehicle belonging to Cordova was a white 2012 Mazda minivan, with a yellow New Mexico plate MKH746.
If anyone has information about Cordova, they are asked to call a detective with the VCSO criminal investigation division — Det. Martinez at 866-3314 or Det. Zilink at 866-2410.
Rowland said the remains found in Cordova’s car were turned over to the state Office of the Medical Investigator for identification.
“We don’t have a positive ID on the remains at this time; that is unknown pending OMI results,” he said. “We have entered Mr. Cordova into (the National Crime Information Center) as a missing person and we are currently investigating his whereabouts.”
Valencia County Fire Chief Brian Culp said county fire departments responded to the car fire.
“The state fire marshal’s office was called in to investigate, as they always are when there’s a possible death in a fire,” Culp said.
County fire department personnel responded to the call right at noon that day and deputies arrived on scene shortly after 1 p.m., Rowland said.
The sheriff’s office is working very closely with state fire and arson investigators, he said, and awaiting results of their investigation.
Alex Sanchez, the public information officer for OMI, said she couldn’t comment on this particular case, but in general, when the office is working to identify the body, they start with simple measures.
“Our examiners will look for a wallet on the body or try to take fingerprints; those are typical first steps,” Sanchez said. “In complex cases, they will turn to dental records.”
That usually means a law enforcement agency has at least a tentative ID of the person, and they then try to locate the persons dentist to get records.
“An ID can sometimes take 24 hours, sometimes longer,” she said. “As our mission statement says, ‘We investigate the deaths to serve the living.’ It’s important that we make certain who the person is so law enforcement has the best information in order to investigate.”
Once an ID has been made, that information is released to the investigating agency, Sanchez said.
Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.