HARLINGEN — There was a somber feel as the family of Nahomi Rodriguez filed into the second floor room at the Harlingen Police Department.
They already knew what Police Chief Jeffry Adickes was going to say.
Nahomi had been found. But she was not alive.
Nahomi’s aunt Enedina Sanchez, who hadn’t stopped looking for her since her disappearance last summer, was visibly shaken as she spoke to the media during yesterday’s press conference.
It was just a few days after remains were found near Rio Hondo and less than 48 hours since she found out those remains were of her niece.
Enedina’s strong smile hid what could only be unbearable sadness.
Sometimes her composure broke, but she regained it.
Nahomi’s father sat close by, not speaking. Instead he wiped away slowly-falling tears.
Even Adickes’ voiced cracked every now and then during his 15 minutes or so at the podium.
There is no mistake, everyone has been affected by this case of the missing 19-year-old.
But now that emotion will be used for the next step of this murder investigation.
The Harlingen Police Department and Sanchez herself are confident they will find Nahomi’s killer.
“Whoever you are, all these gentlemen here are looking for you,” Sanchez said of law enforcement personnel on hand yesterday. “We will find you.”
During the press conference yesterday, Adickes officially confirmed the remains found near Rio Hondo Thursday were positively identified as Nahomi.
Based on the major evidence found at the scene, Adickes said Nahomi could have died the night she disappeared in July or several months ago.
But, while police had few details to share, there were messages they wanted to get out to people.
Adickes urged the public to remember anything they could regarding the disappearance and eventual murder of the 19-year-old.
“The person or persons responsible for this need to be caught and prosecuted,” Adickes said.
Any information will help. Look for the signs and think back to July or anytime after.
“Scan your memory, the person or persons involved, their behavior may have changed, they may have sold the vehicle, they may have moved out of the area, the relationships with family, friends and coworkers may have changed,” Adickes said.
“At the time you may not have thought it was important.”
For Nahomi’s family, the hopes of finding her alive came to a tragic end when they learned the news Saturday afternoon when Nahomi was identified by her dental records.
Sanchez admitted she and her family have gone through many stages during the past nine months — including denial and grief.
Yesterday, upon entering the community room at the Harlingen PD and seeing photos of her niece, reality of her death hit.
In the room, officers placed pictures of Nahomi’s smiling face and a map of where her remains were found.
From the start, Sanchez and Nahomi’s family never gave up hope in finding her after she disappeared in July from the McDonald’s where she worked.
Prior to hearing the news on Saturday, the family was out front and center, seeking the public’s assistance in finding Nahomi alive.
“I want this day to focus on that we have a murder case. A teenager went missing and someone is responsible,” Sanchez said during the news conference.
It was with that same determination in finding her alive that Sanchez assured the public Nahomi’s killer will be brought to justice.
“We can’t let them target anyone else,” Sanchez said.
Family members are just finding out the news, and it has been very hard for them all to cope with the disappearance and now loss of Nahomi.
Sanchez said her grandmother was just told on Sunday and Nahomi’s two sisters have not been told that their big sister is dead instead of missing.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Sanchez said. “It’s the worst nightmare for parents.”
The family asks for the public’s help with any information to help authorities find the person or people responsible for Nahomi’s death.
“We are all devastated,” Sanchez said. “At first we were all shocked — in denial, we did not want to accept it.”
Sanchez also said Nahomi most likely knew her killer.
The night she went missing, a McDonald’s surveillance camera captured her inside the restaurant drive-through window filling a cup with soda.
Rodriguez was last seen wearing her McDonald’s uniform of a black shirt, black pants and a black cap.
She appeared to leave in a grey colored SUV with a man she knew after she told her mother she had a ride home. She never made it.
For Sanchez, she only thought this happened in movies. She has a warning for young adults.
“Don’t just trust anyone, be aware of those around you, don’t leave without telling someone where you are going, carry that phone with you and tell a friend.”
Nahomi’s remains have been sent to a state laboratory and it appears they will be there for some time.
Harlingen Police Chief Jeffry Adickes said yesterday several pieces of evidence were recovered from the scene in Rio Hondo. He wouldn’t specify but the local crime lab is sifting through the evidence.
“She could have died months ago or that same evening,” Adickes said.
Once at the state crime lab, Commander David Osborne said pathologists will be able to determine a cause of death and complete additional testing.
They also will be able to determine a timeline of her death, he added.
The investigation is ongoing and Osborne said investigators will re-interview people about the case.
A memorial service will be held publicly once her remains are returned to the family.
Osborne said that could be as long as six months.
Do You Know Anything?
For now, the Harlingen Police Department is seeking the public’s help. Anyone who might remember information or who has current information pertaining to the case is encouraged to call authorities at 956-425-8477.