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'This is no longer a missing person investigation': Body of Longmont mother missing since 2018 located

Juan Figueroa Jr. was already indicted in the death of Rita Gutierrez-Garcia who was last seen in downtown Longmont.

LONGMONT, Colo. — The remains of a Longmont mother who has been missing since March 2018 have finally been located and recovered, according to the District Attorney’s Office and Longmont Department of Public Safety.

RELATED: Man told cellmate he strangled Rita Gutierrez-Garcia, indictment says

The body of Gutierrez-Garcia was found on April 28 in an area of Weld County east of Longmont. The location was provided to law enforcement and was subsequently searched by Longmont Police Department (LPD) and District Attorney staff. Personnel from the Boulder County and Weld County Coroner personnel were also present.

“I am grateful for this day. Thanks first and foremost to my Lord and all who kept praying for our family. And yes! our LPD for never giving up," Diane Romero, the mother of Rita Gutierrez-Garcia said in a statement.

Police did not say who provided the location of the remains but said that prosecutors and defense attorneys had been in talks ahead of a trial for the suspect Juan Figueroa Jr. which was set to begin in May. 

While no identification was found with the remains, on the evening of April 28, investigators met with Gutierrez-Garcia's mother and sisters to inform them the remains were likely hers.

While speaking with the team, Rita’s sister stated with relief, “This is no longer a missing person investigation.”

On Thursday, preliminary results from DNA analysis confirmed the body belonged to Gutierrez-Garcia, who was last seen by friends near a Longmont bar in the downtown Longmont area on March 18, 2018, at approximately 2:30 a.m. 

Figueroa Jr. was identified early in the investigation as a possible suspect in her disappearance.

RELATED: Man suspected of killing Longmont mom sentenced to decades in prison in unrelated sex assault case

In June 2021, a grand jury indicted Figueroa Jr. for first-degree murder and kidnapping in the Gutierrez-Garcia case. 

According to the grand jury indictment, Gutierrez-Garcia interacted with Figueroa inside a bar at around 1:30 a.m. March 18. Witnesses later placed Figueroa in the same area as Gutierrez-Garcia outside after the bars closed, the indictment says.

Cellphone data from Gutierrez-Garcia's phone placed her phone near the 600 block between Main Street and Coffman Street between 2:40 a.m. to 3:03 a.m.

A security camera captured Figueroa's truck traveling through that exact same area at 3:03 a.m., the indictment says.

Four minutes later, two 911 call hang-ups were made from Gutierrez-Garcia's phone, according to the indictment. Her phone dropped off the network at 3:10 a.m. and was in the area of 3rd Avenue and Vivian Street in Longmont at that time.

According to the indictment, Figueroa left Colorado on March 20, 2018, shortly after police attempted to contact him at his mother's home. He was briefly in Texas, the indictment says, but later crossed the border into Mexico on March 22, 2018.

While in Mexico, Figueroa asked several people for money and said he was "in trouble" and that he planned to sell his truck, the indictment says. He tried to re-enter the U.S. and was arrested on March 27, 2018, on a warrant for a separate sexual assault case for which he was later convicted.

The indictment says following his arrest in the sex assault case, Figueroa told a cellmate that he strangled "the missing woman" and disposed of her body before returning to his sister's house. He also told that cellmate, according to the indictment, that she had called him a "weirdo" which caused him to punch her, which knocked her unconscious. After that, the indictment says, he strangled her.

Until now, the case moved forward as a prosecution of a “no-body homicide” since Gutierrez-Garcia remained missing.

Credit: BCSO
Juan Jose Figueroa

Figueroa is currently serving 93-years-to-life in the Department of Corrections for a conviction related to the attempted murder and sexual assault of another woman.

His next court date related to the Gutierrez-Garcia case is scheduled for June 3. At that time is expected to plead guilty and be immediately sentenced. He had previously been scheduled for a trial this month.

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