Not much was left of Anahi Orozco’s 6-foot-4 brother by the time they found him last December, nearly three years to the day after she last saw him on Christmas morning 2017.
A hunter on horseback spotted the skull, barely discernible from a patch of snow under a large piñon tree in a remote area of the Zuni Mountains that the locals call Lion Kill Canyon.
Investigators from the Cibola County Sheriff’s Department and the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator spent two days collecting bits of bone and cloth scattered from what appeared to be a shallow grave. Dental records confirmed his identity, and investigators had also found scraps of his jeans, size 36-34, and his distinctive leather belt tooled with the name OROZCO across the center back.
Orozco knew it was Ever, her only sibling, before authorities could make the notification Dec. 16.
“I knew something was really wrong,” she said from her home near Greeley, Colorado. “And I had the feeling that he was no longer alive.”
What she doesn’t know is who killed her 28-year-old brother, how he died, why he died and when – or if – detectives from the five jurisdictions who have overseen her brother’s case will ever give her those answers.
But someone knows.
It’s been a lonely, agonizing and irritating effort to find the answers, often because of the tangle of jurisdictions and the seeming indifference and foot-dragging by some of the agencies she’s encountered.
Still she’s persisted.
“We wouldn’t know what we know without Anahi’s love and perseverance,” said Natasha Adler, a victim advocate and case analyst with the Denver-based Families of Homicide Victims and Missing Persons who has been pretty persistent herself since joining in Orozco’s search for answers in 2019. “We’ve been this close to a breakthrough for a year and a half, and it’s frustrating to know what we know and nothing happens.”
So maybe, the women hope, telling Ever’s story will unearth more clues and bring more pressure to move the case along.
But Cibola County Undersheriff Michael Munk said that for now there is nothing to go on to further an investigation.
“It’s not like we don’t want to do more,” Munk said. “We have no crime scene, no method of trauma, no there there.”
For as much as there is unknown about this case, there is much known. And most of what is known points to some of the people Ever Martin Orozco befriended.
“He was pretty free-spirited, outdoorsy,” his sister said. “Everyone was his friend. He trusted everyone.”
Brother and sister were close. Orozco said Ever, a mechanic and father of two, called or texted her every day and lived with her in Greeley for about three years after he separated from his wife.
In the summer of 2017, he moved to New Mexico, telling her he was remodeling a cabin somewhere near a lake and opening a restaurant or food truck in the Grants area with someone he had met.
He returned to Greeley to spend the holidays in 2017, bringing his new girlfriend with him. That Christmas morning, he and the girlfriend headed back to New Mexico with the business partner. He and his girlfriend were supposed to come back in two weeks after they retrieved her things in Grants, Orozco said.
On Dec. 26, he called Orozco from a motel in Palisade, about 283 miles southwest of Greeley and about 360 miles north of Grants. He sounded good, she said.
He made it to Grants the next day, but Orozco said she became concerned when he didn’t call.
She called his girlfriend, who told her that on Dec. 28 he had dropped her off at her home in Grants and didn’t return – and she was pregnant with his child.
Detectives later told Orozco that the girlfriend had never been pregnant, she said.
The girlfriend later disconnected her phone and blocked Orozco on social media, she said.
In January 2018, Ever’s car was found abandoned in the parking lot of a mall in Aurora, Colorado, more than an hour’s drive south of Greeley. The car, a 2008 Dodge Charger, was filled with clothes, paraphernalia and his girlfriend’s purse.
Orozco said she tried reporting her brother’s disappearance and the bizarre re-appearance of his car to Greeley police but was told that her brother was an adult and perhaps didn’t want to be found.
Aurora police took no report of the vehicle or Ever, either, Munk said.
Orozco tried again to report her brother as missing to the Weld County Sheriff’s Department, but it wasn’t until March that he was officially entered into the national missing persons database.
Orozco called morgues in Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. She made fliers, created an email where people could send information, even consulted a psychic.
“I would contact the devil himself if I needed to,” she said.
With Adler’s help, the women posted fliers in Palisade and contacted more than 100 businesses in Grants and nearby Milan asking if they would post the fliers.
“Only three responded,” Adler said. “One I know definitely put up the flier.”
Adler reached out to other law enforcement agencies, including police departments in Grants and Milan and the Cibola County Sheriff’s Department. A detective in Grants helped them delve into information that suggested that Ever should not have trusted some of the people he had befriended.
That, though, wasn’t enough to build a case.
Ever’s remains yielded few clues. The OMI deemed both the cause and manner of his death as “undetermined.”
“The examination is severely limited by the skeletonization of the remains,” the autopsy report states.
Orozco said the Grants detective reached out to the Cibola County sheriff’s investigators but that they appeared to be uninterested in collaborating on the case.
But Undersheriff Munk said neither Grants nor Milan police departments provided any reports on the case.
For now, he said, the case has been cleared as a missing person found, albeit deceased.
“We are continuously trying to follow up on any leads that come in,” he said. “But some of the people involved are not cooperative with law enforcement. At this point, we don’t have anything that would take us in a direction that might lead to giving the family closure.”
It’s not only what you know, but what you can prove, he said. And right now there’s no proof of whatever happened to Ever Martin Orozco.
In February this year, Ever’s remains were finally released to Orozco and her family. A rosary and funeral were held Feb. 19 and 20, his remains interred in a cemetery in Greeley. He is home again, but not the way she had hoped.
“It’s hard still to accept that he’s gone,” she said. “I just kept looking even when nobody else was. I guess I still am.”
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Reach Joline at 730-2793, firstname.lastname@example.org.