The case of a missing El Cerro Mission woman got some resolution Monday afternoon when New Mexico State Police arrested and charged an Albuquerque man in connection to the 2018 disappearance of 49-year-old Rita Jaramillo.

Rita Jaramillo

After seven months of investigation, state police arrested and charged Arthur James Lovato, 59, with an open count of murder in the first degree, and three counts of tampering with evidence in connection with the disappearance of Jaramillo, who was last heard from on Sept. 20, 2018.

Denise Fay, Jaramillo’s daughter, said she and her family had been holding on to a little bit of hope that her mother would be found.

“This is reality setting in. It’s closure, but it’s not,” Fay said.

She said state police hadn’t given her any details about the arrest of Lovato or the case beyond what was released to the public.

“I honestly don’t know more than you do,” she said. “I don’t know if they have found her. I’m just numb.”

Lovato was served with the arrest warrant at the Western New Mexico Correctional Facility in Grants, where he is currently incarcerated on an unrelated matter.

Arthur Lovato

Jaramillo’s daughter, Leslie Romero, last spoke with her mother on the evening of Sept. 20. Romero said her mother seemed fine at that time and expected to see her the next morning.

However, Jaramillo never made it to her daughter’s El Cerro Mission house, which is about five miles from her own.

“That was unusual for her but I just figured they called her into work. She has to be in at 7:15 a.m. but sometimes, they’ll call the night before and ask her to come in earlier,” Romero told the News-Bulletin last year, two weeks after her mother’s disappearance. “I just thought she’d gone to work.”

Between planning her wedding and raising four children, Romero said she and her mother either talked or texted every few days.

“She was busy doing her thing and I was doing mine,” she said.

Romero said Jaramillo indicated she would be working the weekend of Sept. 22-23, so when she didn’t hear from her mother, Romero said she wasn’t especially worried. However, that changed on Sunday, Sept. 23.

“My grandmother called and said mom’s house had burned down. I drove over there, texted and called but there was no answer,” Romero said.

A 911 call came in about 2 a.m., Sept. 23, about a fire at 6 San Luis Rey Place, where Jaramillo lived in a single-wide mobile home.

Valencia County Fire Marshal Casey Davis said the fire started in the bedroom in the south end of the home and while he couldn’t report the cause of the fire at that time, did call it “highly suspicious.”

Romero said she and family members were allowed into the house after the fire was extinguished.

“We found two tires in her home,” Jaramillo’s daughter said. “People have told me tires can be used as an accelerant, to make a fire burn hotter and longer.

“I called immediately to her work and they said she hadn’t come in when she was supposed to that weekend. That’s when I called (the Valencia County Sheriff’s Office) to file a missing person report.”

On Oct. 1, 2018, the NMSP Investigations Bureau was asked to assist the Valencia County Sheriff’s Office with the case.

In a press release issued Monday, April 29, state police said in order to protect information contained in the arrest warrant that could compromise the investigation, investigators have sealed the warrant until the investigation is complete and has been provided to the district attorney for prosecution.

Once the seal has been lifted more information about the details of the case that led to Lovato’s arrest will be released.

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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.