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Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
ESPAÑOLA – A three-day, communitywide search for Española 5-year-old Renezmae Caldaza has ended in sorrow and loss.
At a brief news conference Wednesday afternoon, law enforcement officials confirmed that the little girl’s body had been recovered but provided no details about when or where.
Rio Arriba County Sheriff James Lujan, expressing “deep sadness,” said, “Renezmae has been located. Her remains have been located.”
The Rio Grande Sun, Española’s weekly newspaper, reported that the body was found in the Rio Grande near neighboring Santa Clara Pueblo.
James Langenberg, chief of the FBI’s New Mexico division, urged news organizations to “please respect the tribal area around the Santa Clara Pueblo.”
“Again, today is about Renezmae,” he said in the Rio Arriba County Commission chambers. “We’re not going to answer any questions about where the investigation is moving forward. That will be at a later date.”
Langenberg said, however, “I can assure you this investigation has not stopped. We’ll continue to work until we can identify the responsible party for Renezmae.”
Later, about 500 people gathered on the Plaza de Española for a vigil in Renezmae’s honor as night fell. The event had originally been scheduled to help rally community support for the search for the girl.
Tiffany Ortiz, speaking on behalf of Renezmae’s family and relatives, said, “As you all know, Mae Mae was an exceptional child. She was loved by so many people. She’s truly someone that will never be forgotten.”
Pastor Barry Trujillo of New Creation in Christ Ministries called on the crowd holding lighted candles to improve the community. “Satan cannot have this community anymore,” he said. “Let’s believe for something greater. That’s enough already.”
Renezmae was last seen playing in her yard at 9:30 a.m. Sunday, authorities say. She wasn’t reported missing until Sunday night in a 911 call from her mother, Victoria Maestas.
Later that night, law enforcement officers arrested Malcolm Torres, 25. He has been the boyfriend of Maestas – court records indicate they were together in October 2018 and that they have a son.
On Aug. 7, Maestas filed a petition against Torres over custody, online court records indicate.
A child support hearing had been scheduled for Nov. 7. Also, records show that a Family Court Services “consultation continuation appointment” was scheduled for Wednesday – the day Renezmae’s body was found.
Torres has not been charged in connection with Renezmae’s disappearance but is being held on three warrants for failure to comply with requirements of his sentencing in a DWI case in Albuquerque.
Torres was initially cited by the sheriff as a “possible” suspect in Renezmae’s disappearance. Then, on Tuesday, a Sheriff’s Office spokesman told the Journal that Torres is not a suspect, so there’s been confusion about just how Torres may fit into the investigation.
Online county jail records showed Torres was still incarcerated at the Tierra Amarilla lockup as of Wednesday night.
In October 2018, Torres was arrested and charged in a domestic violence incident in Española. Maestas told police that during an argument, Torres jumped on her, choked her and hit her with a closed fist.
“Victoria stated their children came into the room and Malcolm told the kids to go back into their rooms,” a criminal complaint says. Afterward, Torres threw her to the kitchen floor twice, Maestas told police.
“After the altercation, they gathered their children and went to the Santa Claran Casino to take their kids trick-or-treating,” the State Police complaint says, before the fight resumed in a car. Maestas said Torres slammed her head into the steering wheel and punched her. He then grabbed their young son and left on foot.
Police noted injuries or marks on Maestas’ neck and face. The charges were dismissed in January.
At Wednesday night’s vigil, Victoria Maestas thanked the crowd for coming out and said the ordeal has been hard on her and her family, and the father, apparently a reference to Renezmae’s biological father, who police have said lives in southern New Mexico.
The Sun also reported Wednesday that dispatch center logs show that Maestas called 911 at 7:39 p.m. Sunday to report that Torres had called her to say Renezmae had been missing since 9:30 a.m. that day.
“Father hasn’t reported the child missing and thought the (mother’s) family picked her up,” said the dispatch log, according to the Sun’s report.
Since Sunday, there had been a massive search for Renezmae in and around Española, with her relatives and numerous civilian volunteers joining officers from law enforcement agencies, including the FBI.
Community organizations and businesses pitched in with supplies, meals and water. Searchers used boats, all-terrain vehicles and at least one helicopter, and many hiked through remote rural areas.
There were hundreds of posts on Española message boards expressing loss and condolences after the news spread that Renezmae’s body had been found.
“Rest In Paradise Princess I hope you get your Justice and many other children out there who are angels now,” said a comment posted beneath a photo of Renezmae on her mother’s Facebook page.
The administrator of the Española Valley Gossip page – which was crowded with messages about Renezmae – posted this one, with attribution: “‘The sky it’s crying. If for a moment, a little girl brought a whole town together. We fight against ourselves, against the neighbor, against the drugs and panhandlers. For a few days Española fought to bring a little girl home. Española you fought hard. You brought her home’ – Cecilia M Ortiz.”
At Wednesday night’s vigil, Miranda Sanchez said she didn’t know Renezmae’s family, but came to show support.
“I would want that for myself if anything bad happened, just to show the support that we’re here as a community,” she said. “It hurts just to think of what they’re going through.”