The return to Albuquerque wasn’t easy for Olivia Medel, but her son, then 14, had some words of wisdom.
“Mom, I know you’re going through a hard time,” he told her. “But things are going to get better.”
That was in March 2011, and those were the last words Enrique “Ricky” Medel spoke to her before he went missing.
Which is to say, things did not get better.
Seven years have gone by now and she still hears those words, taunting her now. Despite an investigation by Albuquerque police, an electronic billboard that last year featured her son’s missing poster, a hired private investigator and several psychics and listings on every missing persons website she can think of, Ricky is still gone without a trace.
“It’s really hard,” she said. “It’s like I’m living in my own prison and I can’t get out. I feel like I’m lost, like I’m dead, like I’m alone. I lost a part of me, and I don’t think anybody knows what this feels like.”
Oh, but some of us do, I tell her. I do.
So we talk about her son and what it feels like not to know what happened to him for what is now a third of the 21 years since she gave birth to him. He was her angel, she said. He was her joy.
A year later, she gave birth to daughter Delfina. But the family Medel had created in Albuquerque didn’t last, so in 2000 she moved with her children, then just toddlers, to Kansas City, Mo., after friends told her it was a nice place to raise kids.
It was that, she said, until she lost her job as an airport bartender and was forced to move back to Albuquerque.
It was a rough time, she said. She had trouble finding a job, trouble providing for her kids as a single mother.
She enrolled Ricky in the Warriors Boxing Club as a way to keep him busy after school and out of trouble.
That worked, for a while.
Ricky, who had been boxing since he was 7, garnered many trophies and titles. In 2009, he won the Junior Golden Gloves title in the ages 11-12 division.
But the trouble she hoped to keep him away from found him anyway.
“He was very mature and tall for his age,” she said. “That made him look older. Everybody thought he was 18, but he was just a kid.”
He was 13 when he started hanging around Andy, about 6 years his senior.
“I didn’t like him, all those tattoos over his face,” she said. “He gave me a bad vibe. He was trouble.”
But now that she had found work at a North Valley nightclub, she couldn’t always keep her eye on him. Some days she’d come home from work around 3 a.m. and find him gone.
Then he was expelled for bringing a gun to his middle school. The gun, she said, was Andy’s idea after her son was jumped at school for his jacket.
“I tried my hardest to get my son’s probation officer to help me find some type of program to get him back on track, keep him busy, now that he wasn’t in school,” she said. “I tried to send him back to Kansas City. I reached out to family members for help.”
But Ricky was like a runaway train she could not stop alone. She couldn’t even stop him from getting the tattoos he began acquiring – the words “Game Over” across his knuckles, “Medel” on his abdomen, “FTW” on the inside of his lower lip.
“I told him he could have just one – his last name on his stomach,” she said. “I don’t know where the rest came from. It’s kind of embarrassing, you know?”
On the night of March 16, 2011, Ricky’s uncle saw him hanging with friends outside an Allsup’s at Zuni and Indiana SE and told him to go home. Ricky refused, insisting he was going to stay with friends who lived nearby.
He stopped answering his cell phone that night.
Medel filed a missing persons report March 17, but to her it appeared police didn’t take her son’s disappearance seriously.
“It was just like a joke to them,” she said.
Andy, the kid Medel had despised, was questioned several times and found to have Ricky’s backpack and other items, she said. But nothing came of that.
Nothing ever has. Her son’s case was moved to the cold case unit and remains an active missing persons case, though it has not been reviewed since 2014.
Medel tries to feel hopeful, though she admits it’s been hard for her to imagine that things will ever get better.
“I pray every day, and I pray it gets into the heads of whoever knows what happened to Ricky to come forward,” she said. “All I can do is pray.”
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.