LOS LUNAS — Rita Jaramillo’s daughters are trying their best to cope with the disappearance of their mother.

Jaramillo, 49, a resident of El Cerro Mission, has been missing since Sept. 20, 2018. The former Tigerette cheerleader was the parts manager at the Los Lunas AutoZone.

On Saturday night, her daughters, Leslie Romero, 30, who recently married, and sister, Denise Fay, 27, held a prayer vigil for their mother and other missing people at Heritage Park. A large number of community members showed up with candles and solar light sticks.

Two other families with missing loved ones also attended.

“It’s been really hard,” Romero said. “It’s been extremely tough.”

Breaking into tears, Romero, said she “had to get married without her mom.”

“My kids, they ask for her all the time,” she said as her voice cracked. “It’s been — there’s no words for it.”

“We’re tired, we’re drained out and we want answers,” said sister Fay. “We just want to bring her home and lay her to rest.”

The last time Romero talked to her mother was at about 9:15 the night before she went missing.

“She had said that she was coming to help my son get ready for (school) pictures and she didn’t show up the next morning,” Romero said. “I thought maybe she got called in to open her store. I didn’t think anything wrong happened.”

Then on the morning of Sunday, Sept. 23, Martina Anchondo, Rita Jaramillo’s mother, went to her daughter’s home and found the gate open and the Valencia County Fire Department there — the trailer had been on fire.

Valencia County Fire Marshal Casey Davis said a call came in about 2 a.m., Sept. 23, about the fire at 6 San Luis Rey Place, where Jaramillo lives in an older, single-wide mobile home, the News-Bulletin reported in October.

Anchondo had gone to the trailer on Friday and Saturday and said the gate was closed.

“My grandma thought she just kept missing her,” Romero said.

They called the Valencia County Sheriff’s Office to tell them their mother’s house was burned and they couldn’t find her. It was then that Romero filed a missing persons report.

The following Monday, she received a call from the Albuquerque Police Department. They had found her mother’s car.

“I said it’s part of a missing person’s case and to hold on. I had to call the sheriff’s department to let them know,” Romero said. “I asked him if it looked like there was a shovel or any blood in the car. He said there was nothing.”

Romero asked that they not tow the car and APD left it at the apartments on Wyoming and Comanche as far as she knows, but when the sheriff’s department went to collect it — it was gone, she said.

A deputy asked to make an official stolen vehicle report.

“Since then, we haven’t been able to find anything,” Romero said.

The case was turned over to New Mexico State Police in October, said VCSO Undersheriff Mark Kmatz.

“The case was starting to branch out into other counties as the investigation continued,” Kmatz said. “The state took over so there wouldn’t be any jurisdictional issues.”

Law enforcement have followed tips in Socorro, Bernalillo and even a tip that took the investigation to Torrance County, the undersheriff said.

Agents with the state police investigations bureau are following up on leads, and items of evidentiary value are being analyzed and processed at the forensic laboratory.

He said NMSP does have a person(s) of interest in the investigation, but the vehicle has not been located. It has been entered into the National Crime Information Center database associated with a missing person. Rita Jaramillo is also entered in NCIC as a missing person.

State police are working together with the 13th Judicial District Attorney’s Office to resolve this investigation. Anyone with information is requested to contact the New Mexico State Police at 841-9256 option 1 for dispatch.

“If justice for one of our own, that was born and raised here, if they don’t get justice, then the community is not getting justice and that leaves our community in danger,” said Fay.

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Deborah Fox