This week marked a gruesome anniversary for residents in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Two years ago the remains of at least 11 women were found in the city’s far West Mesa, marking what’s perhaps one of the worst cases of unsolved mass murder that’s flown mostly under the national radar.
Police say that a woman found the remains of one woman while walking her dog one day in early February, 2009. Some estimates say that as many as 13 bodies in total were discovered, including a four month old fetus, and families are worried that there are more victims. Medical examiners estimate that the slayings had taken place between the years 2000-2005. The last two victims to be discovered were identified as Victoria Chavez and Gina Michelle Valdez.
The case remains unsolved. Families of the victims, and those of several other women who’ve gone missing in the area, have urged police to continue digging for more bodies and communicate better about their progress.
“We’ve been missing our daughter for five and a half years now,” Charlie Fresquez told Mas New Mexico during a memorial last year. “We want some closure. We want them not to stop digging. We need to find out.”
Fresquez said his daughter Nina Herron, 21, disappeared in 2004, leaving behind an infant son, house and car. Herron’s family says that their daughter’s disappearance coincides with the other victims’.
Activists and community members say that police have ignored the story because some of the women may have been sex workers. In an op-ed that’s made its rounds this week, activist Adriann Barboa from the group Young Women United gave her take:
As the story unfolded, terrible sounds echoed in my ears. Not the sounds of shovels in the desert, but the sound of these lives being erased. Not only through death, but through the official description of the events. The women were not brave heroes who faced histories of poverty, abuse and trauma with the best tools they could find. They were “addicts.” And because they used drugs, many earned money the best way they could—by selling sex. And so they were “prostitutes.” The authorities thought the story could begin and end there: bodies found, case closed. 11 more prostitutes dead. Done.
…I often found myself wondering if that would fly if these were 11 white college students found buried under a football field.
Barboa goes on to explain that it’s taken the large efforts of families, activists and outraged community members to alter local media’s perception of the crimes. The ground-swell of community report seems to ultimately have forced the police department’s hand in taking the murders seriously. Groups held peaceful rallies to remember the women, some of which drew up to 400 people. Barboa writes:
And we saw a change. After we called attention to the language the officials were using in the case, we saw a powerful shift in their words. Instead of prostitutes and addicts, they became women, mothers and daughters. The investigation remains open, if slow. The families have been connected, and can draw on each other for support.
Still, the cases remain unsolved. Police say that the investigation is ongoing, but there’s no reason to believe that the killer remains at large.