SANTA FE, N.M. — Is this the miracle that a grieving family has been waiting 11 years for?
Or will this prove to be the latest disappointment that will only add to their suffering?
The case of Robbie Romero — a 7-year-old boy who disappeared from his Santa Fe home in 2000 — took another twist Wednesday evening when a man claiming to be Romero came to the family home, according to Robbie Romero’s mother and Santa Fe police.
The Journal has learned that the man who claims to be Robbie Romero is a person who also goes by the name of Robert Terrezas, who was arrested in Santa Fe just last week on charges that included concealing his identity, according to the Santa Fe County jail website.
It lists Terrezas’ age as 19, with a birth date of April 24, 1992. Fliers when Robbie went missing posted his birthday as April 10, 1993.
The man agreed to provide police with DNA. Now, Evelyn Romero, after waiting more than 11 years for her son to come home, will have to wait a few more days to find out if Robbie is back.
“I’m not getting my hopes up,” she told the Journal. “It’s been 11 years. I’ve been there and done that.”
Evelyn Romero wasn’t totally caught off guard by the visit. She said she had learned about the young man through “a friend of a friend” of one of her other sons. The son said that they first came in contact with Terrezas in December and that there was a strong belief among the friends that Terrezas was, in fact, Robbie Romero, according to Evelyn Romero.
“They had been contemplating talking to us about it,” she said.
Evelyn Romero said she sat down with the young man, who she said “doesn’t remember his childhood,” and the two looked through old photographs of Robbie.
“He was amazed as to how much he looked like Robbie,” she said.
Asked if the man looks like her son, she said, “Absolutely.”
“He’s got the big ears,” she said. “That really stood out to me.”
Mrs. Romero said Terrezas told her he had been living in Utah for a few years before coming to Santa Fe and that he was raised in a Mexican family.
“Terrezas is a Mexican name,” she said. “He does not look Mexican. He speaks fluent English and beautiful Spanish. But he doesn’t have an accent.”
KOB-TV reported Thursday night that Terrezas’ mother, identified as Yolanda Armendariz, denied that the youth is Robbie Romero and said he was born in Mexico. According to that report, she said she is trying to obtain a copy of his birth certificate.
Evelyn Romero said she called police while Terrezas was at her home.
“I wanted a DNA test,” she said.
Santa Fe Police Det. Robert Vasquez, the case’s lead detective since 2005, said he has requested the DNA results be rushed to police and said they could take a few days.
But there remain a lot of questions even if it is Robbie Romero, including: Why did he return home now, after all these years? Where has he been? Was he kidnapped?
Vasquez said police don’t have answers yet. Shortly after agreeing to submit to a DNA test, the detective said the man got “spooked” by the police presence and left the home. Vasquez said he was free to leave and police had no reason to hold him for further questioning. However, the detective said his whereabouts are known and it shouldn’t be a problem getting in touch with him again.
Vasquez said police have always had two theories in this case.
“One is that Robbie was accidentally killed by his brother Ronnie,” the detective said. “The second theory is that he had gone missing.”
Now, Vasquez just hopes the young man is who he says he is.
“I’ve worked so many hours and days on this case,” the detective said. “I’m very passionate about this case. I’m hoping that it’s him.”
But, Vasquez added, “It’s very, very rare to have a missing child, missing for so many years, to return home.”
Even though a body was never found, Romero’s case has been treated as a homicide after he disappeared from the family’s Bellamah Drive neighborhood home on June 7, 2000.
Authorities have searched for his remains in many places, including a landfill, a lake and, in the spring of 2008, the family’s backyard — only to find a bag of bones from a dog.
At first, police suspected family involvement, repeatedly questioning family members.
One of his brothers, Ronnie Romero, who was 22 at the time of Robbie’s disappearance, flunked a polygraph test but insisted he was not involved. Ronnie Romero, who was never named a suspect in his brother’s death, died in the Santa Fe County jail in 2008, at the age of 31.
Robbie’s mother, Evelyn, successfully sued the Santa Fe Police Department for access to the full police file on the case in a lawsuit that went all the way to the New Mexico Supreme Court.
The Romero family also sued the police department for harassment, but a federal court jury ruled in favor of police.
Santa Fe Police Chief Ray Rael said Thursday police are still trying to comprehend these latest developments.
“A whole lot of us are still trying to figure out what’s going on here,” Rael said. “We were all taken aback by this development. It’s sort of like a strange novel, but I’m not saying it’s not possible.”
The events since Robbie went missing 11 years ago have sent family members on an emotional roller coaster. Andi Dean is Robbie’s aunt and Evelyn’s sister. On Thursday, a Journal reporter told her of a possible re-appearance. When asked if she had heard about it, Dean said, “Oh, my God. No.”
The same went for Tina Dean, Robbie’s grandmother.
“I just don’t believe it because he’s been gone such a long time,” she said.
Andi Dean said she helped raise Robbie and said her son and Robbie were very close.
“My God, it would be a miracle if it really was him,” Andi Dean said. “It’s hard not to get our hopes up. But why would you submit to a DNA test if it wasn’t him?”