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No More Wondering

By Jeff Proctor
Journal Staff Writer
       As the body count rose on a partially developed patch of the far Southwest Mesa, so did the fear level for Gina Michelle Valdez's parents.
    And when investigators announced that the eighth person found near 118th and Dennis Chavez SW had been four months pregnant when she was buried, Valdez's mother just knew.
    But that didn't make it any easier.
    "As her mother, I knew in my spirit and had felt for a long time that she was dead," Karen Jackson said in a telephone interview Thursday from South Carolina. "I had prayed when I started hearing about bodies on the mesa that they would find her so we could lay her to rest."
    Michelle's father, Daniel Valdez, reported her missing in February 2005. She was 22 at the time.
    On Thursday, Daniel Valdez said he was torn emotionally after visiting the site on the mesa where investigators continue to excavate for more remains.
    "I'm sad she's gone," he said. "But I'm glad I don't have to go to bed worrying and waking up wondering anymore."
    Police uncovered Michelle's remains Saturday, along with those of her unborn fetus.
    The investigation on the mesa began Feb. 2 when someone called police to report some bones in the area. Police say 11 individuals' remains, including the fetus, have been found within an area of about 30 yards by 10 yards. The first set of remains identified were those of Victoria Chavez, who disappeared in 2003. No one else has been identified.
    Authorities believe that all 10 adult remains are those of women, and that all may have had ties to a criminal lifestyle that included drugs and prostitution.
    Karen Jackson says that's a fair characterization of her daughter's later life — but that's not who she really was.
    "She was a very fun-loving girl, she always had a smile on her face, and she would just brighten up a room with her bubbly personality," Jackson said. "Everybody has faults, and hers was drugs. But she was still a human being. She was a good big sister; she always looked out for her sisters. And she was a mom who cared about her kids' accomplishments."
    Michelle had two younger sisters, a son and a daughter, Jackson said.
    Michelle had dreamed of one day being a singer, her mother said, or maybe a lawyer like her aunt.
    "Drug addiction certainly wasn't the lifestyle she wanted," Jackson said. "She wanted help, but she didn't have money or insurance, so it was very hard for her to get it."
    Jackson remembers the last time she saw her daughter — in March 2004 during a visit to Albuquerque.
    "It was a good visit," she said. "We took (Michelle's daughter) Angelica to Pistol Pete's Pizza and played games and laughed."
    Jackson and Daniel Valdez want to know who is responsible for their daughter's death — and the deaths of the others who were buried on the mesa.
    Police haven't identified any suspects yet. But they are interested in a case that involved a prostitute who was slain in late 2006 in a southwest Albuquerque trailer a few miles from where the remains have been found. The suspected killer was fatally shot as he was moving the woman's body. They also are looking into the case of a well-known pimp who died of natural causes in January and who had pictures of missing prostitutes in his home.
    Daniel Valdez plans to give his daughter a proper funeral and burial. "She was a human being," he said, "and she deserves that."

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