Their emotions get more and more frayed as each day passes without knowing, their minds stuck in a cruel tug of war between hoping that she’s still alive and the scenario they know deep in their hearts is more likely.
But they remain strong, fighting each day to find out what happened to her. And they pray “that she’s not suffering,” says cousin Evelyn Garcia, “and that she comes home,” adds Deddie Rivera, the missing woman’s aunt. “If she’s dead, let us bury her.”
That’s the nightmare that 19-year-old Cindy Rivera’s family has been living since she disappeared from her mother’s Peggy Lane home during the early morning hours of June 30, her toddler left behind.
They’ve demonstrated at major intersections in Las Vegas and held candlelight vigils at Plaza Park, refusing to let the community forget that the teen is still missing. They wear T-shirts and jackets with her face printed on them, and many of them drive around with signs on their vehicles pleading for information.
As the holidays approach, their heartbreak grows.
“It’s going to be sad. We’re going to be missing her,” Deddie Rivera says of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, her thoughts turning to the pumpkin pie that Cindy loved to eat with canned whipped cream.
The holidays will be especially difficult for Cindy’s paternal grandparents, John and Bertha Rivera, who raised her. They have been caring for Cindy’s 18-month-old son, Cortez, since Cindy disappeared.
Past Thanksgivings were filled with lots of family descending on the family ranch in Bernal. John and Bertha Rivera have moved to Las Vegas since their granddaughter disappeared.
“My dad is taking it so hard. That was his angel,” Deddie Rivera says.
He doesn’t cry, but, she says, “You can see the hurt in him.”
Bertha Rivera has poured herself into caring for Cortez, but she, too, is hurting, Deddie Rivera says.
And then there’s Jesse Rivera, Cindy’s father, who went down the wrong road in his youth but who turned his life around after finding God.
“It’s hard to see my brother suffering that way,” Deddie Rivera says.
Besides not knowing where Cindy is, they are all haunted by the rumors — that she was killed, chopped up and buried; that she was stabbed, taken up to the mountains and left for dead; that she was sold as a sex slave.
Cindy’s disappearance is the type of thing that isn’t supposed to happen in small towns like Las Vegas.
She was staying at her mother’s home. The last time she was seen was the early morning hours of June 30. She and her youngest son had been staying with her mother at a home on Peggy Lane. Her mother’s home health care client was also living in the home.
Cindy’s mother, Josephine Garcia, was at a friend’s house the night of June 29 when she got a call from Cindy. Cindy told her mother that her ex-husband had shown up, and he was drunk. Josephine Garcia told her daughter to chase him away and to go inside.
She has said her daughter didn’t appear to be scared, so the mother stayed at the friend’s house. When she returned home the following morning, Josephine Garcia found the garage door open and her then-1-year old grandson alone with her client.
She also found one of her daughter’s slippers in front of a neighbor’s house. As she walked around the neighbor’s house she discovered her daughter’s lighter on the ground and her second slipper on the side of the neighbor’s house along with signs that someone had been dragged. City and state police have been trying to piece together what happened to Cindy, who has brown hair and brown eyes and is 5-feet, 1-inch tall and weighs 134 pounds.
Both Josephine Garcia and Deddie Rivera say there’s no way that Cindy would have willingly left her baby alone. Cortez was her life.
“She loved him to death,” Deddie Rivera said. “She spoiled him rotten. That boy was glued to her hip.”
“She never left him anywhere,” said Evelyn Garcia, the cousin.
Cell phone messages
Deddie Rivera has her own suspicions about what happened, and she’s upset that her niece is still missing and that nothing has been done to the people who she thinks are responsible.
She says that after Cindy disappeared, family members checked her cell phone voice messages and discovered several left by her ex-husband, Chris Trujillo, the day she disappeared. She says the messages were shared with investigators.
Cindy had been dating a woman, something that her ex-husband was apparently not happy about.
“On the voicemails he was saying something about her being gay and that he’ll show her what a man is,” Deddie Rivera says. In another, a man who sounds like the ex-husband claims to be a city police officer and states that he’ll show her what happens to “rats,” she says.
In yet another voicemail a conversation is captured in which one person asks who is going to get down and whether they’re going to start trouble.
Family members say the ex-husband was also unhappy about the fact that Cindy gave up their child but that she was raising her second child, who had a different father.
Investigators have been tight-lipped about the case, saying little other than that the case is still under investigation. The Optic’s attempt this week to get an update on the investigation from state police was unsuccessful.
Deddie Rivera says investigators have told her that more than 10 properties have been searched. Search warrant affidavits, which spell out the evidence investigators have justifying the search, haven’t been filed in District Court in San Miguel County, or if they have been filed, they are sealed.
Still, Deddie Rivera says that a concrete slab has been dug up and investigators have searched other places. She says investigators have recently asked family members for anything Cindy may have left behind that contains her DNA.
Deddie Rivera says any contention that Cindy would have informed on anyone is ridiculous, explaining that “she don’t ‘rat’ nobody out.”
A difficult life
Cindy was born on Valentine’s Day 1993, but her life was anything but a bed of roses. Some people live charmed lives, but Cindy wasn’t one of those people.
Issues with her parents meant that she went to live with her grandparents in Bernal at a young age. Family members say she flourished there, excelling at track when she was at Valley Middle School. She was also in volleyball.
Things started to change when she reached the ninth grade and began attending high school. She began a relationship and got pregnant. The baby was born in January 2009, and she married her son’s father two months later. Cindy was just 15, and she and her baby moved in with his family.
Her husband was serving time for killing his cousin, and her family was worried.
“We didn’t want her with that kind of guy,” Deddie Rivera says. “She was sneaking out to see him. He was sneaking into my dad’s house to see her.”
Cindy’s family tried to fight it, but they were married, and there wasn’t much that could be done. Cindy dropped out of school.
Deddie Rivera says her niece’s husband was incarcerated for most of their marriage. The marriage was short-lived. She ended up leaving her marriage and her first child, feeling that she couldn’t take care of him at that time.
Cindy moved in with her father and was even taking classes at Luna Community College for her GED.
‘A day-to-day girl’
For all the heartache, Cindy didn’t dwell on her troubles.
“She would never talk about her problems,” Evelyn Garcia says.
“She was always happy.”
Deddie Rivera says her niece was just a “day-to-day girl,” taking life as it came. She didn’t talk much about her life goals.
Cindy’s family takes solace in the many memories they have of her — helping her grandfather make cement, taking care of the chickens and dogs at the ranch and her summer jobs at Little Moon restaurant, where she bussed tables.
Deddie Rivera says she has trouble sleeping. Her worst nightmare is that she’ll never know what happened to her niece.
“We’d rather find her, bring her home and bury her, even if it’s just bones, than not knowing,” Deddie Rivera says.
“I don’t want her to be gone,” she says. “She’s so young. She’s going to miss out on so much in her life. We’re going to miss out on so much in her life.”