SOCORRO COUNTY, N.M. (KRQE) – A mother mysteriously vanishes seven years ago leaving many in a small New Mexico city wondering if a crime was committed. Her son is now asking for help from the public. His pleas for tips are needed now more than ever after KRQE News 13 uncovered there’s something missing in this missing person’s case.
“I just don’t know where it was put,” Sheriff William Armijo said. “But I will find it. We’re determined that we will find it.”
Socorro County Sheriff William Armijo’s promise now has him tasked with finding out what happened to the missing mother of five and finding missing documents that have disappeared from her case.
“We’re going to have to start from scratch. We’re going to have to reinterview everybody and anybody involved,” Armijo said. “We’re going to have to go back out to the property and basically start this investigation all over again.”
It’s a bombshell in the case that’s now 7 years old. The date was April 15, 2009, when Lilly Lopez, 33, mysteriously vanished in a town just north of Socorro.
In a missing person’s report, her then-boyfriend, Michael Quintana, told deputies the two had been drinking, got into an argument. He went on to say when he left for a beer run he last saw her walking along a desolate ditch bank not far from the home they shared with the young daughter.
Quintana told KRQE News 13 when he returned Lilly was gone. However, he didn’t start looking for her for four days. That’s after one of Lilly’s older daughters called him looking for her mom.
“I told her, I thought she was with you guys,” Quintana said.
Quintana said he thought Lilly was perhaps in Albuquerque with other family members. He also told KRQE News 13 he thought his then-girlfriend had maybe gone back to her ex-boyfriend. However, after that call from Lilly’s daughter. Quintana said he started searching that ditch bank. That’s where he said he stumbled upon a possible clue; Lilly’s shoe.
He said that’s when he called authorities.
Retired Deputy Shorty Vaiza said he was one of the first investigators on the case and remembers that call.
Vaiza said Quintana wasn’t just reporting Lilly missing he also had his own theory of what might have happened to the missing mom.
“Then he looks down there and says there’s an indentation in the dirt that’s where she fell,” Vaiza said. “You still look. You still think is it possible, did she fall in here?”
Vaiza said he never believed Quintana’s theory that Lilly fell into the murky waters. However, he said he wasn’t taking any chances.
The sheriff’s department drained the ditches around Socorro County. Quintana also allowed deputies and state police to search his property, saying he too wanted to find Lilly. After several searches, there were still no signs of Lilly.
However, Vaiza said they did find Lilly’s other shoe in the back of Quintana’s Ford Bronco, which was sitting on their property.
“He said he didn’t know how it got there,” Vaiza said.
It’s left many wondering what happened to Lilly; an accident, vanishing act or act of crime? It is a question that Lilly’s five children are still asking today.
“The idea that she’s out there, living her life selfishly trying to get away is kind of ludicrous,” Samuel Hutton said. “She’s not capable of living on her own.”
Lilly’s oldest son Samuel Hutton said his mom’s developmentally disabled – intellectually delayed to be more specific. Hutton said she also had substance abuse issues in her past.
Samuel and three of his siblings were put into foster care and adopted out. Still, the man who was raised by someone else said his biological mother’s past doesn’t matter.
“I would ask that you dig deep into your heart,” Hutton said. “If you know something just please call and tell us. We want to know what happened to our mom.”
Samuel’s pleas for tips are needed now more than ever.
Do you remember the sheriff’s promise?
“So I take full responsibility for the missing file,” Armijo said.
About two months ago, Sheriff Armijo started another investigation, digging through the department trying to find Lilly’s entire case file. We learned all that remains is a thin folder with the initial missing person’s report and a documented statement.
But finding out who is to blame will not be an easy task.
“This file had been pulled out by our undersheriff and he was reevaluating it,” Armijo said.
Armijo said the now former undersheriff was the last person to fess up to the taking the file. But that was months ago, and even then the sheriff isn’t entirely sure there weren’t documents already missing.
“He didn’t remember exactly to detail what was in there,” Armijo said. “He remembered seeing statements from other agencies, there were photographs in there, beyond that there wasn’t a whole lot in that file due to the lack of evidence that was obtained at the scene.”
The sheriff also said, that until recently, there were no protocols in place to sign out case files not assigned to a specific deputy. The sheriff doesn’t believe Lilly’s case file is entirely gone. He believes it could be stashed away in a box in archives and he’s hell-bent on finding it.
“Even though we can’t find it, I don’t believe it will stop us from completing the investigation,” Armijo said.
For now, it’s an investigation that’s missing a lot of pieces to the puzzle.
Armijo said they’re working with state police to try and recover documents from the joint searches they conducted on the property. The sheriff also said he has been restructuring the department by adding specific positions, such as detectives and a sergeant. There are also new protocols to check out case files and a new electronic-filing system.
The department said there’s never been any information or evidence in the “Lilly Lopez” case that’s pointed to a crime and no suspects have ever been named.
Lilly’s family is now trying to raise money to hire a private investigator.
If you have any tips about the case you are asked to call the Socorro County Sheriff’s Department.