Vigil for missing Yolo teens at Woodland church
Two Yolo County mothers say their only wish this Christmas season is to see their sons again.
Lola Rios Gutierrez and Alicia Moore shared their grief and hope with family and friends during a candlelight vigil Wednesday night at the New Life Community Church in Woodland. Rios Gutierrez last saw her son, 16-year-old Enrique Rios, Oct. 16. The last communication she had from him was in the form of text messages. One said he had fallen asleep at a friend’s house and was on his way to school. Later, he texted that he was under too much pressure and was going away for a while but would return.
Moore last heard from her son, 17-year-old Elijah Moore, on Nov. 4. He told his mother that he was going after school to cash a check at California Check Cashing at 115 Main St. in Woodland. Woodland police say a text message sent Nov. 6 on Elijah’s cellphone stated that he was en route to the Bay Area. That message was sent to a friend of Elijah, who has cooperated with police in their investigation into Elijah’s disappearance.
The mothers say they are exhausted from weeks of worry, but continue to hold out hope that their sons will be found.
“I have no more energy,” a tearful Moore told about 100 people gathered inside and outside the church to offer their prayers and support. “I pray God will continue to give me strength.”
Both boys were students at Cesar Chavez Community School in Woodland, where they took classes in the morning and were enrolled in a construction program, learning carpentry skills in the afternoon, said Gayelynn Gerhart, the school’s principal. They were recommended for the construction program “because they are fine young men,” Gerhart said, adding that they are greatly missed at the school.
Enrique’s grandmother, Lydia Vicente, said all she wants for Christmas is to have Enrique back home.
“Every time I cook there is a little bit of food left over and I say, ‘This is for Enrique,’ ” Vicente, speaking in Spanish, said through an interpreter. “I go to sleep at night and it is cold and I say, ‘Where is Enrique?’ ”
Rios Gutierrez, whose family lives in Esparto, noted that the two cases are being handled by different large enforcement agencies. Her son’s disappearance is being investigated by the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office. The Moores live in Woodland and Elijah’s case is being handled by the Woodland Police Department.
Rios Gutierrez said Enrique had run away from home before but always returned in three or four days. The Sheriff’s Office initially classified him as a runaway, then as a missing person. Only in the last few days, she said, has the department changed the status of the disappearance to “suspicious.”
Woodland police, in a news release updating the investigation into Elijah’s disappearance, said the initial missing person report was treated as a runaway juvenile case because of the lack of information or evidence suggesting foul play and because of the text sent on the youth’s cellphone indicating he might be going to the Bay Area.
On Nov. 8, the officer who took the runaway juvenile report issued an informational flier notifying area and regional law enforcement agencies to be on the lookout for Elijah. The following day, several detectives took over the investigation and began interviewing students, friends, associates, educators and employees at California Check Cashing.
Detectives also authored several search warrants for Elijah’s cellphone activity and social media accounts. The information obtained showed that the youth has not used his phone or social media accounts since Nov. 5.
On Nov. 23, police changed the missing person report status from runaway to suspicious circumstance and established an anonymous tip line for people to call with information. They also have enlisted the help of the National Center for Exploited and Missing Children and the Polly Klaas Foundation in disseminating information.
Rios Guitierrez said Enrique’s social media accounts also have not been used since she last heard from him in October.
A GoFundMe account, www.gofundme.com/EnriqueandElijah, has been established to raise money to assist the families in hiring a private investigator to assist in the search.
Anyone with information regarding Elijah Moore, is asked to call the tip line at 530-661-7850. Information regarding Enrique Rios may be reported to the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office at 530-666-8282. Tips pertaining to either case also can be reported to the Polly Klaas Foundation at 800-587-4357.