For most of his life, Kenneth Bolagh made it home to his mother’s house. That was not the case the night of July 28 or any night after.
Bolagh, 26, was last seen at his home on South Third Street in Belen early on the morning of Wednesday, July 28. His body was found Friday, Aug. 13, on the Isleta Pueblo in Bernalillo County near the Rio Puerco by members of the Isleta Police Department Open Space Division.
When he didn’t return home the evening of July 28, his mother, Mary Jaquez, began calling his cell phone.
When Bolagh finally answered shortly before 9 p.m., he told Jaquez he “woke up” in a canyon and that he could see mountains and Los Lunas Hill, far, far away.
Jaquez’ sister, Elaine Salazar, said Mary thought Bolagh was somewhere west of the hill.
“She was worried, so she called (Valencia Regional Emergency Communication Center) but they said she would have to wait 24 hours to report him as missing,” Salazar said.
The family waited and worried, concerned about what Bolagh had told his mother during what would be his last conversation with her.
“He said his head hurt and he couldn’t remember the pass code to his phone. That’s why he didn’t call,” Salazar said.
He also told his mother two men had been with him that night, men he knew from Belen.
Jaquez called the local emergency dispatch center several more times that night, explaining she thought Bolagh was in danger, not just missing. Between 4 and 5 a.m., Thursday, July 29, New Mexico State Police made contact with the family, Salazar said, and gave them coordinates that turned out to be in the area of Central Avenue and Eubank Boulevard in Albuquerque as a possible location of Bolagh.
Salazar said the Air National Guard Search and Rescue unit was able to track Bolagh’s phone to somewhere between Double Eagle II Airport and Route 66 Casino on Interstate 44.
So the search began on the mesas west of Albuquerque and Belen, west of Los Lunas Hill and even on the far side of the East Mountains in Mountainair, she said.
Bolagh’s car, a 2006 black Dodge Charger, was finally found on Aug. 13, and the body of a man was found several hundred yards from the vehicle. NMSP public information officer Officer Ray Wilson said via email, the body couldn’t be readily identified due to its condition.
The Officer of the Medical Investigator was able to positively identify the Belen man on Wednesday, Aug. 18.
Wilson said NMSP agents are working closely with OMI, who will determine the cause and manner of Bolagh’s death, but the unattended death is not currently being investigated as a homicide.
That isn’t sitting well with Salazar and her family.
“We have many questions and no answers. We don’t feel like he did this himself, drove all the way out there,” she said. “He hardly ever left Belen and Los Lunas. He would go get cigarettes at a smoke shop on Isleta (Boulevard) but that’s as far as he went. I’m not sure he even knew how to really get to Albuquerque.”
Salazar said the condition of Bolagh’s car was also concerning and raised questions about just what happened to him.
“There were scratches all down the length of it, like it had been driven through a fence, and these large dents in the roof,” she said. “What happened? What caused that? We want a complete investigation done.”
While he was 26 years old, Salazar said her nephew was mentally like a teenager, preferring to hang out with younger members of the family rather than the adults, listening to music and going to movies.
“He had a very big heart. His mother was his world, his best friend,” she said. “He never slept anywhere but her house. Even as a kid, he wouldn’t sleep over.
“He was loving, kind, generous. He didn’t deserve this. We hope to get justice. I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy. No one, no family, deserves this.”
On Saturday, Aug. 21, Bolagh’s family and friends gathered at Anna Becker Park in Belen to hold a candlelight vigil and remember him, releasing red and black balloons into the dusk in his honor.
His mother sat in a folding chair, speaking quietly to those who came to pay their condolences. Her quiet words dissolving over and over into sobs that carried across the park.
Jaquez described her son as a “good, helpful kid. He was always helping everyone. He was happy and outgoing.” Saying she was his mother and friend, Jaquez wept again.
Jimmy La Jeunesse, a close friend of Bolagh’s, said he considered them all family, saying Jaquez took him under her wing and showed him the love of God.
La Jeunesse, a Christian rapper, said he met Bolagh seven or eight years ago at a Christmas parade.
The two talked religion and La Juenesse free styled for him.
“He hyped me up so much. He told me to keep it up and keep making art. I’ll remember him as love, just love,” La Jeunesse said. “He inspired me. I love you, Kenny. Thank you for being you.”
Kim Montoya, one of the many people who helped the family search for Bolagh for more than two weeks, said what the family needs now is answers and justice. Montoya encouraged people to contact the New Mexico State Police and demand a full investigation into Bolagh’s death be conducted.
“Be respectful, don’t cuss, but demand, demand they investigate. It’s what his family deserves, what his daughter deserves,” Montoya said. “Each of you standing here tonight, it could be your family member. You would want the same.”
Finding Bolagh and putting him to rest isn’t the end, Elaine said.
“We need to know what happened. We want justice,” she said. “We are not going to stop until we know what happened. We want justice for Kenneth.”
A brief but heartfelt chant of “Justice for Kenneth” rang out across the park as darkness closed in.
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.