"We want answers!" chanted the family of Juan Muñoz – the 20-year-old National Guardsman who has been missing since Feb. – on Saturday (May 1) at a rally and vigil they held across the street from the New Mexico State Police Station on Paseo del Cañon. As of the event, Muñoz had been missing 70 days.
Over 50 people gathered on the side of the road in hopes of putting pressure on NMSP investigators to produce answers about the disappearance of Muñoz, whose car was found at the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge with all of his belongings.
Muñoz was training at the National Guard Armory in Rio Rancho when he didn’t show up for training the morning of Feb. 20th. Later that day, his car was found at the Gorge Bridge.
Though investigators have said the disappearance is likely a suicide, the family believes this to be uncharacteristic of Muñoz, and pointed to the fact that the guards at the Gorge Bridge had seen Muñoz’s car pull up, followed by another car, shortly after 8 p.m. on Feb. 19th, the day before Muñoz’s disappearance.
Elizabeth Rivera, Muñoz’s mother, said she has been doing everything she can to bring attention to the issue. Rivera and her sister Miriam Muñoz say that they have planned additional rallies for the coming weeks; one out by the bridge, one at the plaza, and one in front of the Roundhouse in Santa Fe, in hopes of getting the attention of higher-ups.
Rivera said that she has tried calling Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for her help several times but had not yet received any responses.
During the event, family and friends held up signs and chanted things like “We won’t give up!” and “Help find Juan Muñoz!”. Family members took turns directing their comments to a phone that was livestreaming the event.
“If anyone has any answers then speak up. Every single day my whole entire family has been sad. He’s just not a regular person, he’s my brother,” said Itzel Muñoz, Juan’s 9-year-old sister.
“He wanted to serve this country and they're giving up on him. That's not right. They can't give up on somebody that wanted to fight for our country,” said Carla Muñoz, Juan’s cousin, as she questioned why they were not able to see footage of Juan leaving the National Guard Armory, and were given different answers as to why not.
“You guys make them swear a commitment to you guys expecting them to be there every weekend, but when they go missing you give up just like that?” asked Vidal Aragon – another of Juan’s cousins – of the National Guard, who they hope will assist in the investigation. “We need you guys to show us that he left that base.”
Aragon then took a moment to address Juan directly. “All we want is a call bro, a message or something,” he said, fighting back tears.
After family members spoke out, votive candles with pictures of Juan’s face were lit in front of a makeshift alter with a large picture of Juan in uniform. Prayers were said by many in Spanish, and a preacher addressed the crowd via telephone through a truck’s speakers.
It seemed as if the rally may have fallen on deaf ears, as the NMSP station sat relatively empty. Several family members pointed out that at the beginning of the rally, there were several state police officers across the street, but that they quickly departed. Some of Muñoz’s cousins also pointed out a NMSP officer parked around the corner with the vehicle on, seemingly watching the event.
Muñoz’s family hopes that their vocal efforts will help turn up the heat on investigators. Elizabeth Rivera and Miriam Muñoz said that they had been in contact with several organizations that they hope will help. They have reached out to the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and the U.S. Army Criminal Investigations Division (CID).
They have also reached out to the mother of Vannesa Guillen, the 20-year-old Army soldier who was murdered last year at Fort Hood. Muñoz’s family sees some similarities to Guillen’s case, where she went missing from the base with little information to go on (Guillen’s body was found two months later. The lead suspect – 20-year-old Aaron David Robinson – shot himself when approached by police).
The family hopes the more they bring the issue to the forefront of the town’s attention, the more likely they are to get answers. “Help us,” said Elizabeth Rivera, “anything helps.”
They asks anyone with information on the disappearance of Juan to contact NMSP at (575)758-8878; his mother Elizabeth Muñoz at (575)779-5242; or his aunt Miriam Muñoz at (575)779-6144.
The following rallies are planned for the coming month:
May 8 at the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge from 4-8 p.m.
May 22 at the Taos Plaza from 4-6 p.m.
May 28 at the New Mexico State Capitol in Santa Fe from 4-6 p.m.