SALT LAKE CITY — The family of Rosie Tapia says they have new information about the abduction and murder of the 6-year-old girl — including a potential suspect — that may help police finally solve the 22-year-old case.
"We do believe that we have some fairly solid information about a potential suspect and one or two other persons of interest who may have been witnesses,” said attorney Karra Porter, who is representing the Tapia family.
Porter added that the family met with top brass of the Salt Lake Police Department about a month ago, and detectives agreed the new information could provide “legitimate leads."
"I think these are promising leads,” Porter said. "(Police) considered one or more of these leads to be quite credible."
"I believe we’re on the trail of getting somewhere in the case,” concurred private investigator Jason Jensen, who was hired by the Tapia family.
The abduction and killing of young Rosie from her ground level bedroom window at the old Hartland Apartments, 1616 W. Snow Queen Place (1675 South), early on the morning of Aug. 13, 1995, has become one of the state's most infamous unsolved murders. No one has ever been arrested.
Rosie's mother, Lewine Tapia, along with several friends and family members, returned to the apartment complex Monday for the announcement of a new coalition dedicated to solving the two-decade-old mystery. The coalition is made up of attorneys, private investigators, public relations professionals and other businesses, who are all lending their expertise for free.
Based on information uncovered through the family's efforts, the coalition said it is looking for information about two men and two women. One of the men is considered a person of interest. The others may have valuable information as witnesses, Porter said. The coalition has already interviewed one of the women.
Porter said her group, for now, is honoring the request of the police department not to name the persons of interest. As of Monday, she said they know where those people are.
But now that the group has people to specifically focus on, they are pleading for anyone who lived, worked, or visited the Hartland Apartments in 1995 to contact them.
"We have something to compare that information to now. That’s why it’s critical,” Porter said. "Every little bit of information that seems unimportant is now critical."
Tapia also made a personal plea to the public on Monday, asking anyone with information to step forward.
"Every year I come out and plead to the public to help us (find) the person who took my daughter away,” she said. "Twenty-two years has been a long time. And I would like to solve her case as soon as possible."
As for whether this information gives the family new optimism that Rosie's killer will be caught, Tapia said, "I’m hoping and praying it’s going to be a breakthrough with everything that's coming together."
In 2010, Salt Lake police released a sketch artist drawing of a man with a hat and sunglasses who brought Rosie to her apartment just hours before she was abducted. Whether that man is also one of the two men the coalition is now seeking information about was not known Monday, though it is suspected.
Rosie's sister, Emilia Eliendo, who was 18 at the time, was the one who saw the mysterious man with Rosie. That was between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Aug. 12, 1995. She saw the man from her apartment window, and then met him at the door.
"And I grabbed her from him, and he said she got hurt on the slide. And I said, 'OK.' He had his head down, so I couldn’t see much of his face. He had sunglasses and a hat. And I said, 'Thank you, I’ll check her out,'" Eliendo recounted on Monday.
"I shut the door, I lifted up the back of her shirt and said, 'Where did you get hurt at?' And she said, ‘I didn’t get hurt.’ And I said, ‘How did he know your name?’ And she said, ‘I don’t know.'"
The Tapia children went to bed between 9 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. that night. Jensen said between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. on Aug. 13, 1995, someone abducted Rosie through her bedroom window, took her to the banks of the nearby Jordan River surplus canal, sexually assaulted her and killed her.
Jensen said a plausible theory is the man who took Rosie home hours earlier did so to find out where she lived, then returned later that night to abduct her.
"I don’t believe it’s just a coincidence. I believe this individual knows something about what happened to Rosie that morning,” he said.
The family said they had never seen the man depicted in the composite sketch prior to that day.
"The family believed from day one that this was somebody that was visiting here or lived here that committed this terrible crime,” Jensen said.
Despite having that information, the Tapia family said Salt Lake police did not approach Eliendo to do a sketch drawing until 2010.
Several times during Monday's press conference, the family expressed frustration with the police department for not doing enough to try to solve the crime. Porter acknowledged that part of the reason the department wasn't invited to Monday's press conference was due to that ongoing frustration.
"It has been 22 years. We’re taking things into our own hands at this point,” she said.
Despite that, Porter hopes the interaction between the Tapia family and police detectives will be more positive from this point on. She said police have agreed to meet with the family on a regular basis.
"The focus is moving forward. But is it true that things were not done 22 years ago that should have been done? Yeah, I believe even the police department would acknowledge that,” she said.
As part of the effort to find that missing "puzzle piece" that could tie the whole case together, Porter said a new confidential hotline has been established. Anyone with information can call and talk to someone involved with the coalition and not police. She said even calls from jail or prison will be honored.
"We don’t care about your status. We don’t care about anything other than getting information that we need to solve this crime," Porter said.
That number is 385-258-3313. A new website, whokilledrosie.com, has also been set up with information about the case.
With the Thanksgiving holiday this week and families getting together, Porter said it is the perfect time for people to talk about what they remember from 1995. The website includes short YouTube videos with raw video gathered from local news stations, including KSL, from 1995. Porter encouraged families to watch those during halftime of the football games on Thursday and see if anyone's memory is jogged.
Salt Lake police announced several years ago they would be testing DNA again due to the advances in technology. When asked about an update on DNA evidence, Porter would only say there was "new information in that regard” but declined to go into detail.
All of the new information gives the Tapia family hope. Still, Lewine Tapia admitted that returning to the apartment complex where her daughter was abducted — something she hasn't done in years — was difficult for her Monday.
"It hurts. I’m so emotional right now. But, she’s giving me the strength to come and do this,” she said holding back tears. "I won’t let it die. I come every year, put her story out because I don’t want her case closed. I want justice for her."
The Salt Lake Police Department on Monday said the Tapia case is still an ongoing and active investigation, and detectives continue to follow all leads, both old and new. Sgt. Brandon Shearer said as for the DNA evidence that was tested, there is "nothing definitive right now that would help" from the results.
Shearer added that the department was pleased that the case is being brought to the public's attention again.