Provo • In January, when they heard 13 children had been found inside a Southern California house chained to their beds, brothers Rosemberg and Rudemberth Salgado rushed to the home with posters displaying the picture of Elizabeth Elena Laguna-Salgado and the word “Missing!”
The brothers, who live nearby, went there without knowing any details about the victims, but were hoping one might be their missing niece.
“We were thinking maybe he has my niece,” Rosemberg Salgado said earlier this week. “We went there to see who those kids were. You never know.”
But the children were siblings who allegedly had been locked up for years in the filthy house by their parents. Seven of them were adults but were so emaciated they appeared to be much younger, according to investigators.
And so the Salgados and police continue to look for Laguna-Salgado, who has been missing since her last known sighting April 16, 2015, on a busy street in Provo.
Monday will mark three years since his niece disappeared, but Rosemberg Salgado is still optimistic there will be a miracle.
“We have hope and we have faith,” he said. “The Lord is going to help us find her. You always have to think positive.”
On Friday, at a news conference in Provo City Council chambers, speakers urged the public to come forward with any information that might help find Laguna-Salgado. In addition, they requested that everyone spread the word about the case through social media.
Rosemberg Salgado said there are no leads on what happened to his niece — but someone must know something.
“We are begging the community to please help us find Elizabeth,” he said. “We ask you to treat this case like she was your own family member.”
He stressed that Provo police are not concerned about anyone’s legal status and that members of the Latino community should not be afraid to talk to investigators.
Ed Smart, father of kidnapping survivor Elizabeth Smart, said he believes informing as many people as possible about the case is key to solving the mystery of Laguna-Salgado’s disappearance.
“The fact is that she could very well still be out there and we don’t know where she is, so the eyes and ears of the public is what we feel will help us find her,” said Smart, who became involved in the matter at Rosemberg Salgado’s request shortly after the young woman vanished.
Provo police Sgt. Nisha King said the case is open and investigators are following up on every tip.
“We’ve reached out all over the world to try to find her whereabouts,” King said. “We don’t want to leave any stone unturned.”
On the day of her disappearance, the then-26-year-old woman had been in Provo for less than a month and was attending classes at the Nomen Global Language Center, 384 W. Center. At 1:30 p.m. on April 16, 2015, she left the school and sent a text to her sister in Mexico that she was on her way home.
Three classmates saw Laguna-Salgado walking north on 400 West and her cellphone pinged for the last time from a tower near the school and her home, police said.
Her regular route home — from 100 N. 400 West to her apartment at 1800 N. 450 West — has a lot of vehicular and foot traffic in the middle of the day and “the fact that we didn’t receive any calls about a suspicious incident at the time she disappeared is baffling,” police said in a case summary posted on Facebook last year.
After that, Laguna-Salgado did not return to school or show up at her job as a waitress and there was no activity on her cellphone or credit cards. Volunteers searched the routes she might have taken to get home. All known sex offenders in the area, current and former roommates, and students and teachers at Nomen Global were interviewed by investigators.
In addition, Provo police have gotten assistance from numerous other agencies — including the FBI, Homeland Security and Interpol — and notified immigration authorities to monitor for any border crossings. Hundreds of tips came in from throughout the nation and were checked out, but nothing led to the missing woman.
Rosemberg Salgado said he has received Facebook messages from people claiming to have information about the case, but all of those communications were scams to try to get money from him.
“It’s been a terrible experience,” he said. “It’s really sad there are people in this world who don’t even have a heart.”
After getting a college degree in her native Mexico, Laguna-Salgado went on a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, then came to Utah to study English. At the time she vanished, she had not yet learned the language.
Police say Laguna-Salgado’s routine consisted of attending school, going to church and exercising alone. Some of her classmates invited her to dances and other social events, but she declined all invitations. She was somewhat reserved in face-to-face situations but active on social media, according to police.
Mackey Smith, who became friends with Laguna-Salgado in the weeks before her disappearance, said Friday that she is a shy woman who has a heart of gold. He thanked the people who have assisted in the search and asked everyone to reach out on social media for clues.
“I know that if we just share the word a little bit more, eventually we never know what little thing we share [that] can actually touch somebody’s heart and inspire them to come forward and say something, to say what they saw,” Smith said.
Laguna-Salgado would be 29 now and is described as 5-foot-5 and about 120 to 125 pounds, with long black hair and brown eyes. She was last seen wearing a denim jacket, blue jeans and black or brown knee-high boots, and was carrying a denim handbag with red straps.
Anyone with information about Laguna-Salgado is asked to call the Provo Police Department detective division at 801-852-6255.