Their faces stare out from the FBI’s website and from handbills taped to windows and lampposts across Woodland.
A year after they disappeared, Enrique Rios and classmate Elijah Moore of Woodland remain missing, frustrating their anguished families and the investigators who continue to work to find the missing teens.
“They say it’s an ongoing investigation. They don’t tell me (what is happening). That’s really hard,” said Lola Rios Gutierrez, Enrique’s mother. The reaction from Elijah Moore’s mother, Alicia Moore, is more raw. Moore is angry, frustrated, so much so that Moore said she is planning to move from Woodland.
“They don’t have any new leads and I’m just livid about it,” Moore said Wednesday. “They don’t want to let me know too much because they say they don’t want to jeopardize the case. I get that, but I just want justice so I can sleep at night. I feel like this town has my son. I don’t want to leave him here.”
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Somebody knows where they are, Gina Swankie, spokeswoman for the FBI’s local field office, said this time last year. On Wednesday, agents here said finding the teens remains an active case, but acknowledged the frustration of families who have waited too long for any sign of their loved ones, calling the case “heartbreaking.”
“There are no unaddressed leads in this case. I understand their frustration. Everyone on the team is acting as parents,” said Robert Tripp, supervisory special agent at the FBI’s Sacramento field office. “Their concern is the first and last thing we think about in this case. We’d all like to have an answer.”
For a year, federal agents have worked alongside Woodland police and Yolo County Sheriff’s detectives to ferret out leads. Tripp said the joint team has been recreating the time immediately before Rios and Moore disappeared.
“We do believe there’s an answer,” Tripp said. Investigators, he said, are working under the assumption that leads to one of the young men will lead to the other.
“They did know each other,” he said. If their hunches and information pan out, “it’s a more efficient use of resources,” Tripp said.
But neither their combined efforts, nor a $10,000 reward, candlelight vigils or the many leads sent investigators’ way, have managed to bring Rios and Moore home.
Enrique was the first to vanish. Rios Gutierrez last saw her son in his bedroom the night of Oct. 17, 2016.
Enrique’s disappearance is something Rios Gutierrez still tries to understand.
“It was just another day,” she said Thursday of the last night she saw her son. “Nothing out of the ordinary at all.”
It’s her mother and daughter who seem to feel the waiting the most, Rios Gutierrez said. Her mother helped her raise Enrique from birth. Her daughter misses her big brother.
“That’s her buddy,” Rios Gutierrez said. “She’s only 5. She doesn’t know how to express her feelings. I wish I could say, ‘He’ll be here tomorrow,’ but when she says he’s not coming home, that really hurts.”
Rios Gutierrez keeps the door to Enrique’s bedroom open so she can look in as she leaves the house. His photo is the first thing she sees on her phone.
“He’s on my mind every day,” she said. “To me, my son is still missing. I don’t want to drive myself crazy. He could come home tomorrow.”
Nearly a month after Enrique’s disappearance on Nov. 4, a day after his 17th birthday, Elijah Moore went missing. He was last seen at a Woodland check-cashing center, looking toward the security camera in an image posted on the FBI’s website.
“He was so excited to turn 17,” Moore recalled with a wistful chuckle. He would say, ‘One more year and I’m out!’ ”
Moore said she is planning a vigil near the spot where her son was last seen on Nov. 3 – Elijah’s 18th birthday. There will be red balloons, she said, for Elijah’s favorite team, the San Francisco 49ers.
She’s also on the street, she said, talking to people and tracking her own leads, gathering information that she hopes will lead investigators to her son. The shoe-leather groundwork adds to her frustration.
“How is it that you don’t have any leads? I’m in the street giving you leads – solid leads,” Moore said. “They say there’s nothing new. I beg to differ. I’m going to keep digging. I get out of my comfort zone to get answers for my baby. If something happens to me and it helps me find my baby, so be it.”
Just days ago, a vigil was held in Woodland to mark Enrique’s disappearance.
Rios Gutierrez said her family’s spirits were lifted by the show of support, but the feeling a year after her son’s disappearance is bittersweet.
“That makes me happy that they show both (teens) are important, but it’s a year that I haven’t heard from my son or seen my son,” Rios Gutierrez said. “We want people to know that they’re not home.”