By PAIGHTEN HARKINS The Salt Lake Tribune
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Over the past 25 years, as leads in the killing of 6-year-old Rosie Tapia appear and disappear, life has gone on for her family. Lewine Tapia, the girl’s mother, and her children have gotten older. Rosie’s older sister, Emilia Elizondo, who was 18 years old and babysitting the night Rosie was kidnapped, has now died.
After all this time, though, the family hasn’t lost hope. And they’re just as upset about her death — and that they’ve never gotten to look the person who killed her in the eye.
“It just hurts so bad. I just want to find the person who took her, and make them pay for what they did,” said Lewine Tapia.
On the 25th anniversary of the girl’s death, her family and members of the Utah Cold Case Coalition came together to announce a new initiative in Tapia’s honor: the Rosie Tapia Identification Project.
Through the project, the coalition’s forensic DNA laboratory, Intermountain Forensics, will offer free DNA testing and genetic genealogy to identify unidentified bodies found in Utah, Colorado, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.
Karra Porter, co-founder of the nonprofit, said there are 29 unidentified bodies in Utah listed in the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.
“There are people out there who are wondering what happened to their loved one, and it turns out that the answer is in somebody’s evidence locker,” Porter said.
Rosie Tapia was was abducted through a window of the family’s basement-level home at the Hartland Apartments, 1616 W. Snow Queen. Their house faced Redwood Road, and Rosie was taken sometime between 2:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. on Aug. 13, 1995.
A few hours after she died, a man walking his dog found her body in a canal near 1900 West and 1200 South, just blocks from her home. An autopsy showed she had been raped and then drowned.
For years, coalition co-founder Jason Jensen said, people have speculated that Elizondo was keeping some kind of secret about the girl’s death. Some have said the 18-year-old had a party that night, and perhaps an attendee took the girl.
Jensen said he doesn’t buy it. He said police found no evidence of a gathering, and that he believes Elizondo would have come forward if she had any information that could help the case.
“She loved her sister. That’s one of the last things that she made clear to me before she died,” Jensen said. “She had no reason to keep things secret from the investigation, to keep anything from law enforcement.”
Lewine Tapia echoed that sentiment Thursday. She told reporters that before Elizondo’s death, Elizondo told Lewine Tapia that she’d been forthcoming about all she knew.
She said Elizondo’s recent death from an illness made the 25th anniversary of Rosie Tapia’s disappearance all that much harder, even after so much time. The family was very close-knit, Lewine Tapia said, and like with Rosie, she didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to Elizondo, who died in a hospital in April.
Lewine Tapia said that she was confident that someday, police would get to the bottom of this case. “I just know that there’s somebody out there that knows something,” she said.
Anyone with information about any cold case can call the coalition’s tip line at 385-258-3313. During August, which is Cold Case Month, the group is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the closure of a cold case.