The holidays are a time meant to be spent with loved ones. So this year the family of Rita Gutierrez-Garcia once again made their way to Thompson Park in Longmont, where there is a bench in memory of the missing mother of three.
Together, they decorated the bench and the nearby tree that have served as the starting point for so many searches and vigils as they pray for Gutierrez-Garcia to be found.
“It’s just our way of remembering her,” sister Nicole Romero said. “That’s the closest thing we have. It’s how we spend our holidays with her and remember her.”
Gutierrez-Garcia disappeared almost three years ago after going out with family in downtown Longmont in 2018, last seen walking to the parking lot behind 3’s Bar.
Despite extensive searches, police have yet to find Gutierrez-Garcia. But even as her case grows colder, the pain her family goes through remains.
“It hasn’t gotten any easier; it hasn’t changed,” Romero said. “Every day is a constant reminder in some way: a movie. a song, something you’re doing. Seeing her kids and my parents every day, there’s a reminder of her everywhere.
“It’s hard, it hasn’t gotten any easier at all.”
But Romero said that one thing the family has been able to take some solace in is that they know they are not the only ones thinking of Gutierrez-Garcia.
“Rita Gutierrez-Garcia will not be forgotten,” Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty said. “The DA’s Office is working closely with the Longmont Police Department to bring her killer to justice. This is a very active investigation. Obviously, the investigation is more complex because Rita has not been found. We owe it to Rita’s family, who have suffered greatly, to keep working this case — and we will.”
Romero said their family still regularly talks with the DA’s Office and Longmont police about the case.
“They’re amazing to us, they keep us as informed as they can,” Romero said. “Even if it’s a, ‘We don’t have much, but we’re still looking.’”
Romero specifically mentioned how grateful the family is to Longmont police Det. Cody Clark, who has been on the case since the beginning.
“We still meet with him, and we still talk at least once a month,” Romero said.
Clark said even if he doesn’t always have updates for the family, he feels it is important he let Gutierrez-Garcia’s family know he is still working the case.
“It’s what I promised to do when I came into this job,” Clark said. “That I would try to provide answers and justice for victims and families, and I take that seriously. I want to follow through and help them as best I can.”
Clark admitted it has been frustrating at times working a case that has had so few leads. While police named a suspect who is in prison on a separate case, nobody has been charged yet in Gutierrez-Garcia’s disappearance.
“Obviously it’s been difficult working on something this long and not feeling that immediate satisfaction of having something close right away,” Clark said. “But I’m still working on it every day and doing the best I can to try and bring closure to the family. There is a reason I do this job, and I want to provide closure to her family.”
But Clark hasn’t just been the lead investigator on the case. He has gotten involved in other ways, including leading the effort to have a bench put up in the park for Gutierrez-Garcia’s family.
“When I had spoken with the family, they had told me they were frustrated they didn’t have a place to remember her or be with her,” Clark said. “That really struck a chord with me.”
Romero said having a place to gather and remember her sister has been a blessing.
“It gave us more of a reason to be together and get out and spend some time together,” Romero said.
In addition, Romero said she thinks the bench has helped the Longmont community remember her sister.
“There were people coming up to us saying they haven’t forgotten either, that they pray for her still,” Romero said. “To hear that is. … We’re more than grateful. It’s nice to hear people haven’t forgotten.
“It means so much; it means everything to know people who didn’t even know Rita, they are praying for her. It gives you hope even on days when you don’t have it.”
Clark said he has also seen the community rally around the family and the department.
“It’s very easy to go this long and feel people have forgotten, but that’s not what happened” Clark said. “It is neat to see the community want to be involved and help, whether it’s supporting the family or providing information to us.”
With the help of the Longmont community, Romero and her family will keep Gutierrez-Garcia’s memory alive until their family can hopefully one day be whole for the holidays once again.
“All I can hope for is that we can continue to remind people that her case is still active and she’s still missing,” Romero said. “We’re still waiting for her to come home.”
How to leave tips
Anyone with information about the disappearance of Rita Gutierrez-Garcia is asked to call 303-774-3700 or email tips to [email protected]
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