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Monday, March 02, 2009
Lost Women: Don't These Cases Deserve a Deeper Look?
By Joline Gutierrez Krueger
Journal Staff Writer
A friend of mine whose husband works for a local TV news station told me last week that, when the identity of a second woman unearthed from the mass grave on the Southwest Mesa was released, he, like every other reporter, tried to lock down the requisite interview with the woman's grieving family.
The relatives said no.
They were angry, my friend said, because they had never forgotten that, four years before, the TV station had refused their plea for a little airtime to help them find the missing woman.
I don't know the reason for the station's dismissive stance then, but I can guess.
Gina Michelle Valdez, 22, wasn't big news to them.
She wasn't a blond-haired, blue-eyed, all-American college student inexplicably snatched from the nice part of town.
No, Valdez lived — and, likely, died — on the dark, desperate fringes where death comes more easily, less lamentably.
In her brief adulthood, she had amassed several charges both here and in Arizona for drug possession and prostitution. Her last arrest, on the Fourth of July 2004, was for a charge of aggravated assault.
No one cared, some editor must have wagered, whether she ever showed up again.
Except for those who loved her, who knew she was more than her rap sheet, more than someone who had fallen too far, too fast.
She had mattered to them even before she became Jane Doe No. 8, a dead pregnant woman and one of 13 bodies and counting, buried in what has become the biggest crime scene in Albuquerque's history, the repository for an apparent prolific serial killer's handiwork and a gruesome sound bite for CNN, ABC, Fox News and other national media.
(By the way, just how many bodies need to be dug up before the Albuquerque Police Department is comfortable with the term "serial killer"? Just asking.)
The TV station certainly isn't alone in its easy dismissal of society's less-thans. During my days as a cop reporter at the Albuquerque Tribune, I remember being admonished by an editor to remember that crime was only news if she could imagine it happening in her own backyard.
Of course, her backyard was situated in a swanky, saltillo-tiled enclave outside Santa Fe. Short of tax evasion or insider trading schemes, that didn't leave a whole lot for me to cover.
So, as was typical of me (then), I ignored her.
It always seemed to me that we journalists owe it to the public not to make such swift and elitist judgments for fear we might miss a truly compelling story about a truly remarkable person.
Granted that's typically not the case for a majority of those whose lives end in violence.
Still, you can't help but wonder whether the body count on the Southwest Mesa might not have gone so high had someone besides the families of the lost taken a second look.
At least one woman had, though.
For several years, Detective Ida Lopez of the Albuquerque Police Department's missing persons unit has been collecting the names and faces of women who disappeared into the rough world of prostitution, drugs and violence, then disappeared altogether.
Gina Michelle Valdez and Victoria Chavez, the first women to be identified from among the remains on the mesa, were both on that list.
I've included a list of the others, all gone since 2001. And I added a few more, including Teresa Reyes, a 17-year-old bipolar Albuquerque girl last seen in her family's Southeast Heights home in 1998. She's another one of those missing persons whose case gathers dust but no leads.
Go ahead. Google their names. You won't find much except family-generated blogs and Web sites maintained by various missing persons organizations, such as the Charley Project and the North American Missing Persons Network.
They're out there somewhere, and maybe they are out there on that mesa.
Either way, maybe it's time to take a second look.
SOURCES: Albuquerque Police Department, The Charley Project, North American Missing Persons Project
UpFront is a daily front-page opinion column. You can reach Joline at 823-3603 or firstname.lastname@example.org.