Missing man found dead

Missing man found dead

April 20, 2007
Burlington, Burlington Times-News
by Keren Rivas / Times-News

Ever since her younger brother, Rigoberto, disappeared in Atlanta more than a year ago, Patricia Anzaldo Lara has been waiting for a miracle.

Even after Atlanta police found the car he and his friend were using abandoned, she still hoped to see him alive.

Those hopes crumbled last November when she learned that two unidentified bodies had been found close to where the car had been found.

According to Lt. Jason Bolton with the Henry County Police, on Nov. 14, 2006, maintenance workers found two sets of skeletal remains while they were cutting grass near some power lines in a neighborhood in the city of Stockbridge. He said the bodies were in woods across from a house. No clothing or any other items were found nearby.

Two weeks after the discovery, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s medical examiner’s office determined that the skeletal remains were those of Hispanic males.

Investigators later told Anzaldo-Lara that the height of the bodies and other features matched Rigoberto and Horacio Meza Torres, the friend who was with Rigoberto the day he went missing.

In February, the Alamance County Sheriff’s Department received a written confirmation from Henry County police informing them that one of the bodies was that of Rigoberto Anzaldo Lara, said department spokesman Randy Jones.

Anzaldo Lara said her brother’s dental records matched one of the bodies. Though investigators are still running DNA tests to determine the identity of the second victim, “Unfortunately, we feel like the second one is going to be the other (missing person),” Jones said.

On April 7, 2006, Rigoberto and Meza-Torres left their homes in North Carolina hoping to find a better job in Atlanta. Each one was carrying $200 to $300 in cash. At around noon the following day, Rigoberto, then 19, called his girlfriend and told her that he and Meza-Torres were having lunch at a taco shop in Atlanta. He also said they were heading back because they were not able to find a job.

When the pair didn’t arrive as planned, Anzaldo-Lara tried to call her brother many times, but his cell phone no longer worked.

This week, she received what is left of her brother’s remains. “I thank God that they found him, but this is not the way I wanted him to be found,” Anzaldo-Lara said.

She added that she feels police didn’t do enough to find her brother from the beginning. “We are deeply hurt because they never took us seriously,” Anzaldo-Lara said.

After the two men went missing, relatives contacted the sheriff’s department. They were told the investigation had to be conducted by Atlanta police. But when they called Atlanta police, they were told that it was an Alamance County case.

Anzaldo-Lara says they were told that since the men were Mexicans, they probably just went back to Mexico and simply didn’t tell anyone.

In a past interview with the Times-News, detective P.C. Lyons with the Atlanta Police Missing Persons Unit said they didn’t have an open investigation. She said that for the case to be handled by Atlanta police, there had to have been some proof that the men were last seen in Atlanta.

On April 25, 2006, Atlanta police found the 1995 Oldsmobile the men were driving outside an apartment complex in a neighborhood described as “a pretty heavy drug area.” Since nothing “remarkable” that implied foul play was found, like a broken window or blood, the car was impounded.

Jones said the sheriff’s department did all it could to help the family, but that there was little that could be done since the men went missing in Atlanta, outside the department’s jurisdiction.

“We opened a missing persons case here as a courtesy (to the family),” Jones said. “If the situation were reversed, we would have had a wide-open investigation here.”

He said he found out about the unidentified bodies found in Georgia through a nonprofit organization out of Chapel Hill called the Doe Network, which matches missing persons’ cases with homicide cases across the nation.

After he received the information, he contacted the Henry County police and sent them the information they had on the missing persons cases. Jones said the department is willing to continue assisting with the investigation, which has now turned into a homicide case.

Benito Meza Torres, brother of the other victim who lives in Texas, declined to comment but confirmed that Georgia investigators are treating his brother’s disappearance as a homicide. Like Anzaldo-Lara, he also thinks police could have done more to find the missing men.

“I think that if police would have acted in time, none of this would have happened,” he said. For Anzaldo-Lara, all that matters now is to find the person or persons who killed her brother.

“I want justice,” she said. “I know we are all going to die one day, but we all have a purpose in life. I want to know before I die who is responsible for my brother’s death.” She says she doesn’t understand who would have wanted to hurt her brother. She said he was not involved in gangs or drugs.

Jones said that the location where the bodies were found is not on the way to North Carolina which, to him, suggests foul play since the men’s last communication was that they were on their way home.

“Something happened there and they were probably slain and the bodies dumped,” Jones said. He said that particularly in the South, where there is high humidity, it is likely that the bodies turned to skeletons in a matter of weeks.

Bolton said the department is still investigating the time and cause of death. Rigoberto Anzaldo Lara was buried today in the Mebane cemetery. He would have turned 20 in February. He lived in Reidsville. Horacio Meza Torres, who was 22 years old when he disappeared, lived in Green Level. He would be 24 in June.

Search timeline

April 7, 2006 — Horacio Meza Torres and Rigoberto Anzaldo Lara leave North Carolina headed to Atlanta looking for jobs.
April 8, 2006 — Anzaldo-Lara calls his girlfriend from a cell phone and tells her they are heading back home. He tells her they expect to be home by 8 p.m. They are never heard from again.
April 10, 2006 — Family members file missing person reports with the Alamance County Sheriff’s Department. Soon after, they contact Atlanta police.
April 25, 2006 — Atlanta police find the 1995 Oldsmobile the men were driving. The car had been parked there for about a week. The car is impounded. No investigation is opened.
Nov. 14, 2006 — A mowing crew finds two sets of skeletal remains in the woods near a house in Henry County, southeast of where the car was found.
Nov. 30, 2006 — The Georgia Bureau of Investigation determines that the remains are those of two Hispanic males.
Jan. 3, 2007 — The Alamance County Sheriff Department receives oral confirmation that one of the bodies belonged to Rigoberto Anzaldo Lara. The department receives a written confirmation within a month. The family is notified shortly after.
April 21, 2007 — Rigoberto Anzaldo Lara is buried in the Mebane cemetery. Meza-Torres’ family is still awaiting results from the medical examiner’s office.

Keren Rivas / Times-News writer can be reached at keren_rivas@link.freedom.com .