Orem • A day after a man pleaded guilty to killing a mother and son who have been missing for almost four years, authorities say they are turning their focus to one thing: Finding the bodies of 23-year-old Emily Quijano and her 3-year-old son, Gabriel Almiron.
Quijano’s boyfriend, Christopher Poulson, admitted in an American Fork courtroom Tuesday that he “severely” injured Gabriel while he was babysitting the toddler on Sept. 8, 2015. He put the child to bed, and Quijano came home from school and went to sleep.
When Poulson woke up the next morning, he found Gabriel had died overnight. He panicked, prosecutors say, and shot Quijano while she slept.
Poulson’s admissions came as part of a unique plea deal that authorities hope will lead them to where the man buried Quijano and her son. He gave them information about where the bodies are, authorities say, but the remains had not been found as of Wednesday morning.
“We will not stop looking for them,” Orem Police Chief Gary Giles said at a news conference. “We will find them some day. I hope that it’s sooner than later, but we will not give up.”
It’s in Poulson’s interest that the bodies are found — as it has the potential to have an impact on the sentence he receives on Sept. 26.
Poulson pleaded guilty to first-degree felony murder and second-degree felony manslaughter, crimes that could carry a sentence of up to life in prison. But Deputy Utah County Attorney Lance Bastian said Wednesday that if Quijano and Gabriel’s remains are found before the September sentencing date, prosecutors will ask that Poulson be allowed to plead guilty instead to 30 second-degree felonies. With that plea, Bastian said the goal would be to keep Poulson in prison for 30 years.
It will be up to the judge to decide if he’ll let Poulson change his pleas. And the parole board will ultimately decide how long Poulson spends in prison.
But Bastian said finding Quijano and Gabriel has been incredibly important to their family.
“We are absolutely hopeful that we are going to find Emily and Gabe,” he said.
Brenda Marsh, Quijano’s mother, expressed how grateful she was for the police investigating her daughter’s and grandson’s disappearance these past four years, working long hours and sleepless nights trying to figure out what happened.
“These good people have cried with us,” she said, “mourned with us, laughed with us, prayed for us and sacrificed for us. They have spent time away from their families to serve ours.”
Marsh also said her family is heartbroken for Poulson’s family, saying they have offered love and concern during court proceedings. She said she was grateful for Poulson’s plea and the information he’s given about where to find her daughter.
“I hold no animosity towards him and we forgive him,” she said. “We want him to do what is necessary to obtain forgiveness and peace from God.”
Giles said authorities will search an undisclosed area for the bodies, and they may ask for the public’s help in searching the area if nothing comes up initially. Those interested in volunteering should watch Orem police’s Facebook page for updates.
Authorities have long believed Poulson was responsible for killing the two. And despite not finding their bodies, prosecutors charged him with the crimes in 2017.
Poulson told police he broke up with Quijano on Sept. 8, 2015, telling authorities he hadn’t seen her since she left their Orem apartment with her young son after he found drug paraphernalia in their apartment. No one has seen or heard from Quijano since.
After a two-year investigation, authorities arrested Poulson in Hawaii in 2017 and charged him with the murders of Quijano and Gabriel.
Poulson, now 30, was initially charged with two counts of aggravated murder and obstruction of justice, but the charges were reduced as a part of a plea deal.
Bastian said Poulson took the deal after prosecutors began revealing the amount of evidence that pointed in Poulson’s direction. While they didn’t have Quijano and Gabriel’s bodies, he said they were confident they could have secured a conviction at trial.
Prosecutors allege that Poulson murdered the woman and her son, wrapped them in sheets and then “buried or otherwise disposed of and concealed their bodies.”
The day after the mother and son disappeared, Poulson bought a shovel and work gloves and then turned off his cellphone, according to a probable cause statement filed in court. The phone was turned on again three hours later and police traced it to a rural area of Payson.
Prosecutors allege that geolocation data from Poulson’s phone show he took a trip on Sept. 11, 2015, to St. George, where he abandoned Quijano’s red Toyota Prius with the keys and some of her belongings inside. Poulson returned to Utah County via a shuttle service, charges state.
The car was found in April 2016 and was searched by police. But authorities say the only fingerprints found on the bags of Quijano’s belongings were Poulson’s.
Though Poulson had originally told investigators that Quijano usually drove him around in her car, police discovered that the man owned a Ford Mustang, which he sold below value days after the disappearances. Police tracked down and searched the vehicle, and a cadaver dog “indicated” on the trunk area three times, according to charging documents.
Poulson also told other lies to police as they investigated the disappearances, prosecutors allege. And when confronted with all of this evidence during an August 2017 police interview in Logan, Poulson left for Hawaii two days later.