The father of a missing 44-year-old Las Cruces woman who disappeared over the weekend while on a camping trip in southern Arizona believes his daughter was abducted.
Janet Castrejon, who is partially blind and suffers short-term memory loss, was last seen Friday evening in Rustler Park, a campground in the Chiricahua Mountains, where she and her family had planned to stay until Sunday, according to her father, Eduardo A. Castrejon, a family practice physician in Las Cruces.
On Monday, Castrejon said authorities in Cochise County had elevated his daughter’s missing status to “missing and endangered.” He said rescue crews stopped searching for his daughter in the campground area late Sunday evening. He believes authorities would likely continue the investigation as a possible abduction.
“We are convinced that there was an abduction,” Castrejon told the Sun-News. “They don’t think she’s in the area anymore — dead or alive.”
A spokeswoman for the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office confirmed Monday that rescue crews suspended the search on Sunday evening. The crews have concluded that Janet Castrejon is no longer in the Rustler Park area, the spokeswoman, Carol Capas, said.
“She does not appear to be in that mountainous area anymore,” Capas said. “We had significant number of resources in this search, and after being out there more than 72 hours, the crews reached the exhaustion phase. We will regroup and assess and stay in contact with the family.”
Capas said authorities have entered Janet Castrejon into the FBI’s National Crime Information Center, which retains information on missing individuals until they are found. In this case, Capas said, authorities cannot issue a Silver or Amber alert because of Janet Castrejon’s age.
The Cochise County Sheriff’s Office previously reported that Castrejon’s daughter was with her brother when the two became separated. But, in detailing the events leading up to his daughter’s disappearance, Castrejon said that wasn’t true.
Castrejon said he arrived at Rustler Park at 1:30 p.m. Friday with his wife, Lydia Castrejon, and their daughter. Later in the afternoon, the mother and daughter walked a short distance to the park’s self-serve pay station. After leaving the payment, Lydia Castrejon stopped at nearby restroom, but her daughter wanted to go back to the campground, where her father was stationed in the family’s motor home.
But Janet Castrejon never made it back, he said.
“My wife was in the bathroom for two or three minutes, but when she came out, Janet wasn’t there,” he said.
Castrejon said his worried wife walked back to the campground, hoping to find their daughter, but she was nowhere to be seen.
“We got out of the motor home and talked to some other campers, and we started searching for her,” he said.
They searched the immediate area for some time, even using a special whistle to call for their daughter, but they were unsuccessful. With night approaching, the Castrejons’ fears began to grow.
By that time, Castrejon had contacted his son, Oscar Castrejon, who notified the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office and arrived at the campground after 8 p.m. Castrejon said authorities arrived between 2:30 and 3 a.m. Saturday.
Search-and-rescue crews from several agencies, including a team of dogs from the Arizona Department of Corrections, scoured the campground, but they were unable to locate Castrejon’s daughter.
Castrejon also said several family members and friends from Las Cruces and Deming traveled to the camp area to help search, but he said authorities “put quite a bit of limitations on us.”
Capas said the sheriff’s office is investigating all possible scenarios, including abduction. The Rustler Park area and surrounding trails are “frequented” by drug smugglers and human traffickers from Mexico who seek rural and secluded passageways into the United States, Capas said.
“We’re not focusing solely on the fact that she may have just walked away,” Capas said. “We’re looking into all possibilities, and that includes the trail areas where smuggling is common.”
Capas said the sheriff’s office has received several leads, including many from people who were in the immediate camping area at the time of Janet Castrejon’s disappearance. She decline to elaborate on the nature of the leads.
Capas said search-and-rescue operations are “very common” in the Chiricahua Mountains, which is part of the Coronado National Forest.
“It’s beautiful but very rural and rugged,” she said, “and we respond to a lot of calls, mostly from missing hikers who get lost.”
By Sunday, family members had set up a community page on Facebook, Castrejon said. The page, www.facebook.com/findjanet, is devoted to sharing the most up-to-date information on Janet Castrejon and her disappearance.
Family members are hoping to obtain additional leads through Facebook.
“Time is of the essence. As now the investigation turns to a possible abduction, we need all hands on deck and her image known to all who might spot her,” Myrna Castrejon, a cousin, wrote in a post.
On Monday, Castrejon spoke about his daughter, the oldest of this four children, with great fondness. “If you see her once, you’ll never forget her,” he said.
Castrejon said she was involved in a crash when she was 18 years old and spent three months in coma afterward.
As a result of the crash, she suffered permanent memory loss, and has no vision in one eye and only central vision in the other, her father said. She also has trouble speaking, he said.
Castrejon said his daughter would spend most days playing on the family’s computer. But she also enjoyed camping and spending time outdoors with her family, he said. This was the family’s third trip to the Rustler Park in recent years.
Janet Castrejon is described as 5-feet, 2-inches tall. She weighs about 250 pounds and has long black hair, which had been braided before she disappeared. She was last seen wearing a white T-shirt with black lettering, blue jeans and white shoes with red stripes. Those with information about her whereabouts should immediately call 911 or the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office at 520-432-9500 or 800-362-0812.
Carlos Andres López can be reached at 575-541-5453.
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