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Family, Friends and Others Gather To Remember and Honor the Victims Found Buried in the Southwest Mesa

By Lloyd Jojola
Journal Staff Writer
          Hands let go of powder-blue and pink balloons Saturday, touching the sky as a tribute to loved ones lost and found.
        At a home in the North Valley, a remembrance for the women whose remains have been excavated by police on the far Southwest Mesa took place. But the gathering also served as a reminder that other families have members who remain unaccounted for.
        "We're doing it for all missing women," said Liz Perez, who helped organize the event. "But my grandson's mom is missing; that's why I'm doing it."
        Perez was referring to Darleen Trujillo, her grandson's mother, who has not been seen since July 2001.
        Among a list of women who have been found on the mesa or have gone missing in recent years, Trujillo's face appeared on the front page of the Journal.
        "When the paper came out, she was like the first one featured. And my grandson came home from school. He said, 'What's my mom doing on the front page?' He thought she was one of the women they had found," Perez said, crying.
        Perez said the observance was done "to show support."
        The event was attended by dozens, from those who merely wanted to pay their respects, to people directly affected by the ongoing investigation, and those who hold out hope for missing family members.
        "These gals need to be honored," said Clyde Wheeler of Anderson Hills, which is near the excavation site. "Not only were they humans, but they have family; they have people who loved them and cared for them. ... There isn't such a thing as a 'discard,' and I think that seems to be kind of like the attitude some people have."
        At the Southwest Mesa location near 118th and Dennis Chavez SW, a woman walking her dog in early February discovered bones on freshly excavated land.
        The remains of 12 women and a fetus have since been unearthed — and the story has grabbed national news attention as it's developed.
        The remains of four women — Cinnamon Elks, Victoria Chavez, Julie Nieto and Gina Michelle Valdez — have been identified. Valdez was pregnant when she was buried.
        Police have said the four victims knew one another and shared similar life paths described as battles with drug use and prostitution.
        One family member took the police and the media to task for that portrayal.
        "They keep repeating the same thing over and over again, insulting the family," said Eleanor Griego, Nieto's mother. "They don't show (any) compassion to us and, what we say, they don't even put it out there."
        Griego was asked what she would like people to know.
        "These girls were good kids at one time. They just fell into the wrong crowd."
        Nieto, who was 23, was a sweet woman, a mother who loved her son and was very protective of him.
        "The drugs killed her, but we didn't get help from nobody to find these girls," Griego said. "Now that they finally find them, all they do is insult them."
        Griego's other daughter died two years ago. She is raising her three grandchildren.
        Julie Gonzales, another attendee, said her older sister Doreen Marquez has not been seen since 2003.
        "All of us here are missing somebody," she said, recalling an outgoing, fun-loving sister who brought everyone together for barbecues.
        Marquez never gave up on anyone, Gonzales said, and she, too, hasn't given up.
        "Wherever she's at, God's with her — I believe that in my heart," Gonzales said.
        Family of Victoria Chavez, the first person from the Southwest Mesa to be identified, were also in attendance. It was five years to the day that Chavez went missing.
        "To have them come and knock on my door, I was devastated," stepfather Ambrose Saiz said of the notification.
        "I never thought it would end like this. I just had that hope."
        Mary Gutierrez Saiz, Chavez's mother, offered the advice of prayer to those enduring the same ordeal.
        "Don't give up," she said.
        "Because nothing done in the darkness, stays in the darkness."
        "It all comes to light," Ambrose Saiz concluded.

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