Who killed 6-year-old Rosie Tapia?
That is a 22-year-old question that still haunts her family — but now there are new leads.
On Monday, Karra Porter, an attorney who represents the Tapia family, announced that a new volunteer coalition of investigators and other experts have gained ground in the August 1995 abduction and murder case without the help of the Salt Lake City Police Department.
Porter said at a news conference they have identified three new persons of interest — suspects or witnesses — who may have knowledge of the rape and murder of the youngster. But, Porter said, she was prohibited from identifying them.
Porter described them only as two men and one woman. They also have talked to a second woman regarding the murder, she said.
Lewine Tapia, Rosie’s mother, made a plea from their former residence, the Hartland Apartments, 1616 W. Snow Queen Place, asking anyone who lived or visited the sprawling complex near 1700 South and Redwood Road in 1995 to contact her and the team of volunteers.
A tip line has been set up at 385-258-3313 that will keep callers’ identities confidential, Porter said. In addition, tips can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A website also has been established at whokilledrosie.com. It includes video news clips of the crime.
The public’s help could be key to putting together the remaining pieces of the puzzle, Porter said.
“Literally, there is no detail too small. Every piece of information is critical,” she said. “Even if all you know is the person’s name who lived across the hall in 1995 — we need that badly.”
Rosie was abducted through a window of the family’s basement apartment facing Redwood Road sometime between 2:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. on Aug. 13, 1995.
A few hours later, a man walking his dog found the girl’s body in a canal near 1900 West and 1200 South, just blocks from her home. An autopsy showed the child had been sexually assaulted and then drowned.
On the afternoon before her disappearance, a man carried Rosie to her apartment, recalled her sister, Emilia Elizondo, who was 18 at the time. She took Rosie from the man, who knew the youngster’s name and said she had been hurt on the playground slide.
Elizondo said that when questioned, Rosie told her she did not get hurt on the slide and did not know how the man knew her name.
Her brother, Robert, who was 4 at the time of Rosie’s killing, said he saw a man he did not know in their room that night. Robert said the man had a beard, and told him to go back to sleep.
It wasn’t until 2010, 15 years after the murder, that police asked Elizondo to help them make a sketch of the man who was carrying Rosie on the afternoon before her disappearance, she said.
“It’s frustrating, because nothing has happened,” Elizondo said. “It doesn’t seem like it will ever be solved.”
Salt Lake City police were not represented at Monday’s news conference. Porter said she did not invite them and noted that there is friction between the family and detectives. Porter was hired by the family, in part, she said, to get information for the Tapias from police.
Rosie’s mother said city investigators have been less than helpful and forthcoming over the past 22 years.
“They say they are not giving up,” Lewine Tapia said of police. “But through the years, I haven’t had a lot of help from them. But I won’t let it die. I want justice for her.”
If not for the coalition that is now investigating the case, “we’d be in the same position we have been in for the last 22 years,” Lewine said.
But Sgt. Brandon Shearer said Salt Lake City investigators continue to actively investigate the case.
“We have met with the Tapia family regularly throughout this investigation,” he said Monday, “and will continue to meet with them regularly.”
Shearer confirmed that Rosie’s fingernail clippings had been processed for evidence, but had not yielded a distinct DNA profile.
Officials could not reveal other details of the ongoing investigation, Shearer said, without jeopardizing the ability of detectives to interview suspects.
Nonetheless, Shearer said that the news conference was a good idea because it may persuade people who know something about the case to come forward.