It’s not Robbie.
Almost as quickly as a long-grieving Santa Fe family got their hopes up that a missing loved one — Robbie Romero, who was last seen in 2000 at the age of 7 — might be back in their lives, their dreams were shattered again.
Less than 48 hours after a man visited Evelyn Romero’s home, saying he might be her long-sought son Robbie, Santa Fe police on Friday announced that DNA results show he is not the person whose disappearance shook the community 11 years ago.
Now, it’s back to the drawing board for police. And, for Robbie’s relatives, it’s more heartbreak.
“We had our hopes so high,” said Tina Dean, Robbie’s 80-year-old ailing grandmother. “I thought God wanted me to see my grandson before I go. But, I’m not giving up.”
Santa Fe Police Chief Ray Rael said no charges would be filed against the 19-year-old Robert Terrazas because no crime was committed.
Members of the Romero family say they hold no ill will toward Terrazas, who they believe is “troubled.”
Evelyn Romero said he told her he couldn’t remember his childhood.
“He had a lot of characteristics that are similar (to Robbie), and he thought so, too,” Evelyn Romero said. “Regardless, I appreciate him being so cooperative and giving his DNA. That’s all I wanted.”
Still, when Evelyn Romero received the DNA results from the police chief shortly before a news conference at headquarters Friday, she said, “I was devastated.”
“I thought I wasn’t keeping my hopes up,” she said. “But when they told me the results, the flood gates opened. But this, too, shall pass.”
During the news conference in front of local and national media, Rael announced that DNA results show Terrazas is not Robbie Romero.
Rael stood among a group of dejected officers, who were also hoping for the best.
“This rekindled our city’s memory of this tragic situation,” Rael said. “For a lot of the officers here, it was personal.
“It’s taken a toll on the department. Everyone here would love to solve this case.”
A definite likeness
Evelyn Romero told the Journal on Thursday that she first heard about Terrazas in December, when one of her sons had become a “friend of a friend” of Terrazas. She said there was a strong belief among the group of friends that Terrazas was, in fact, Robbie Romero.
On Wednesday evening, Terrazas visited with Robbie’s mother, who then called police to request a DNA test.
Mrs. Romero told the Journal that Terrazas “absolutely” looked like her son.
The two looked through old photographs of Robbie Romero and Evelyn said that “he was amazed as to how much he looked like Robbie.” The mother said that Terrazas bore a resemblance to her son, especially his “big ears,” that “really stood out” to her.
In a news release, Santa Fe police said they had received information that Robert Terrazas “was portraying himself” as Robbie Romero. (The Santa Fe County jail’s website has his name spelled differently from a prior arrest. Police confirmed the correct spelling Friday.)
Police stated in the release Friday that Terrazas even referred to Evelyn Romero as “his birth mother.”
They did not say where they got that information.
Evelyn Romero said she doesn’t know where police got information that he was saying he was her son. She said he never told her he was her son, but that his friends told him he might be.
Meanwhile, a woman identified as Yolanda Armendariz told reporters Thursday that Terrazas was her son and that he was born in Mexico.
Armendariz told KOAT-TV on Friday, “My son is Robert Terrazas, not Robbie Romero.”
She also told KRQE that he had wrapped sheets around his neck in a suicide attempt in March and has had memory problems since then.
Armendariz said that she is “so happy” to have the information that he is not Robbie Romero confirmed for others.
Terrazas has been in Santa Fe long enough to have an arrest history.
As recently as last week, he was arrested on charges of being a minor in possession of alcohol and concealing his identity during a traffic stop in town. Santa Fe police Lt. Louis Carlos said that police “were barred” from accessing any criminal history Terrazas may have had as a juvenile.
However, in 2008, the Journal wrote about a boy named Robert Terrazas, who was arrested for taking part in the armed robbery of an Allsup’s convenience store. The boy was 15 at the time of the arrest.
Police also say that they had school records from another state, which, along with his prior criminal history, provided them with a timeline for Terrazas.
Andi Dean, Robbie’s aunt and Evelyn’s sister, doesn’t believe that Terrazas was trying to pull a fast one on the family. She just feels that Terrazas is “troubled.”
Police Chief Rael, who said he had no information about Terrazas’ mental state, echoed part of Dean’s sentiment to reporters.
“I’d be hard pressed to say it’s a hoax,” Rael said. “Maybe an unfortunate, bizarre lead that didn’t pan out. I don’t see someone plotting out this type of scenario.”
“At this point, Mr. Terrazas has not committed a crime,” the police chief said. “There’s no evidence that he’s engaged in a crime.”
The events from the last couple of days add to what has been a long investigation for police, which started when Robbie went missing from his family’s Bellamah Drive neighborhood home June 7, 2000.
Since his disappearance, authorities have launched numerous searches for his remains. They have also questioned Romero family members, including his brother Ronnie Romero, who always denied any involvement. Ronnie Romero, who died a few years ago, was never named as a suspect in the case.
As for those who had hoped for the best in this case, it just wasn’t meant to be.
“I just got off another roller coaster ride,” Andi Dean said. “It’s heartbreaking.”
Asked if she thinks her nephew is still alive, somewhere out there, Dean said, “No, I think he’s in Heaven.” What does Evelyn Romero think?
“I have no clue,” she said. “But I hope to God every day.”
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal