“If this would have been JonBenét Ramsey or a blonde-headed little girl, I feel like the media would put this on the news every damn day.”
Alicia Navarro, a high-functioning autistic teenager, went missing from her Glendale home Sept. 15, 2019.
Now, almost 10 months later, her mother still has no idea where the 15-year-old may be.
“I’m just confused. I’m scared for my daughter,” Jessica Nunez told The Copper Courier. “I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t have any answers, any idea.”
An Unexplained Disappearance
Nunez told The Vanished podcast that Alicia experienced developmental delays and social difficulties growing up, leading to an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis when she was 12.
Because of this, her mother said, she doesn’t have the same ability to determine a person’s intentions as others do.
Nunez said Alicia is a standout student and loves to play video games and chat with her friends online.
But one time, Nunez saw a stranger Alicia had met online asking her daughter for personal information. At that point, she had a talk with her daughter about internet safety and the possibility of predators.
Despite this warning, Nunez believes someone was able to gain Alicia’s trust and convince her to leave her home. She said Alicia wouldn’t leave with someone she wasn’t familiar with.
“I understand it comes from home, educating your children, monitoring and whatnot, but it’s … impossible unless you cut all internet to be constantly there, looking at everything,” Nunez said.
The Day Of
Nunez stayed up late at their home near 45th Avenue and Rose Lane the night of Sept. 14 to wait for her husband to come home from work.
She remembers Alicia coming downstairs around 1 a.m. for a glass of water and asking her mom why she was still awake.
Nunez didn’t think much of it and eventually fell asleep with her two other children, while her husband fell asleep on the couch.
When she woke up the next morning, she found the back door slightly open.
She assumed her husband had forgotten to close it, but when she told him, he said he hadn’t been out back.
That’s when Nunez sensed something was wrong and ran upstairs to find Alicia not in her bedroom.
Upon further investigation, they found chairs pulled out in the backyard that they believe Alicia had used to climb over the wall.
They also determined that she had taken her phone and laptop with her.
But she did leave one important thing behind–a note. It read: “I ran away. I will be back. I swear. I’m sorry.”
Not Necessarily a ‘Runaway’
But as Nunez points out, there is much more complexity to a case in which a child “runs away.”
“What bothers me is that they’re all categorized the same, as runaways,” she said. “And you don’t know the situation of each child. You don’t know if they’re there willingly or unwillingly.”
Nunez said police aren’t sure that Alicia was picked up by someone she was planning to meet. It’s possible she left and was walking alone when a stranger could have kidnapped her.
It’s also possible she may have realized a person she was meeting was not who they said they were and tried to escape but was prevented from leaving.
There are very few clues, in part due to Alicia’s phone being turned off. Glendale police said the phone hasn’t been used since she disappeared, and because of that they can’t ping it to gain information about her location.
Nunez said she has met with officers twice since the initial investigation and she calls them weekly for updates. Police have said they’ve received multiple potential sightings and tips, but nothing has turned up solid yet.
Disparities in Coverage
Gaetane Borders, president of missing children of color advocacy group Peas in Their Pods, said race often plays a role in how cases are categorized.
“There is no research that proves that children of color run away at higher numbers than any other child of any other race,” Borders told The Copper Courier. “But yet for some reason, stereotypically, that is how they’re listed on the police report.”
And that characterization oftentimes hinders search efforts.
“If the perception is that they left willingly … then people are less likely to want to help,” Border said. “It’s harder to find a child who willfully left and is hiding, as opposed to when you think about wanting to help a child who you fear the worst for.”
Nunez said she isn’t sure if race has played a role in the coverage surrounding her daughter’s case, but DeeDee Garcia Blase, co-founder of Somos Independents, thinks so. She has been acting as Alicia’s family’s spokeswoman since she met Nunez while she was passing out flyers at an event.
“If this would have been JonBenét Ramsey or a blonde-headed little girl, I feel like the media would put this on the news every damn day,” Garcia Blase told The Copper Courier.
Garcia said she feels frustrated due to the police’s lack of information and what she feels is a lack of urgency surrounding the case coming from elected officials.
For example, she said she hasn’t seen any recent posts about Alicia from Glendale Mayor Jerry Weiers or Councilman Ian Hugh, who represents the family’s district.
Glendale Police haven’t tweeted out Alicia’s information since the day she went missing, although officers did participate in a Live PD segment on the case and The Vanished podcast episode about her.
“[Sharing information] is the very minimum that they can do,” Garcia Blase said.
Garcia Blase and Nunez held a press conference last week in which they asked for more to be done.
Afterwards, the police department sent out an email to members of the press containing a timeline of events in Alicia’s case and a list of reported tips, from a recent as Feb. 17.
“Our hearts go out to this mother over the disappearance of her daughter, Alicia,” Sgt. Randy Stewart said in a statement. “From day one we have shared with her every tip and piece [of] information we have received in order to locate Alicia.”
How You Can Help
Beyond sharing information and reporting any tips (Nunez runs a Facebook group where she posts updates), the public can contribute to a fund to help spread the word.
Nunez has been attending events to pass out flyers with Alicia’s information, but due to the pandemic she is now working to put up billboards in hopes of alerting people who may not see her daughter’s story on social media.
“Maybe that one person knows something or saw something that will be able to help me reunite with my daughter,” she said. “Or whoever is with my daughter, or my daughter, because I don’t know the situation, sees that and is able to know that I am looking for her.”
Garcia Blase and Nunez put together a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for the billboards. As of now, with just over $2,500 of their $5,000 goal, they hope to buy two placements for a month.
“I wish there was more that I could do,” Nunez said, ” but I’m just trying to do the best that I can.”
Alicia Navarro, 15, has brown hair and brown eyes. She is 4 feet, 5 inches tall, 95 pounds and has braces. Because of her small stature, she looks younger than her age.
She was last seen wearing a whitewashed overall denim skirt and black and white Vans-type sneakers. She may be wearing the white sweatshirt in this photo and carrying a silver Apple MacBook Pro laptop.
If you have any information, call Glendale Police at 623-930-3000 or call the Center for Search and Investigations at 512-887-3519.