LONGMONT, Colo. -- As the search for a missing mother continues more than a year after she went missing, her family has searched for a place to find peace.
Rita Gutierrez-Garcia disappeared after a night out at a Longmont bar. She was celebrating St. Patrick's Day with friends and was last seen in the early morning hours of March 18, 2018.
"We have been hopeful — hopeful for justice, hopeful that one day soon, God willing, there would be a miracle and Rita would be found," said Diane Romero, her mom.
Police believe Gutierrez-Garcia is no longer alive. But since she hasn't been found her family doesn't have a grave or anywhere they can go to mourn.
In the days and weeks after she went missing, her family started putting ribbons on a tree at a local park. Her family has visited Thompson Park in Longmont countless times since. They celebrated family events there with Gutierrez-Garcia and now continue to return to the tree. Sometimes they leave messages for her tied to the branches; other times it's a quiet moment spent talking to her.
"We call the tree the hope tree," said Romero. "It’s just been a place that her loved ones have been able to come."
Her family loved the tree so much they asked the city if they could adopt it, only to be told trees were not up for adoption. When her sister talked with the detective working Gutierrez-Garcia's case, she mentioned how they had tried to adopt the tree.
"He just came up with ... the idea of the bench and when he brought it to us, we’re just like, 'Oh yeah, that would be so great.' And he started a GoFundMe and in just a matter of a couple of days we had the money to do it," said Romero.
Their detective not only came up with the idea to install a bench in Gutierrez-Garcia's honor but he helped with the fundraising efforts. He also worked with the family to come up with a quote that would ultimately be engraved on a plaque and placed on the bench.
The quote is a reminder that the search continues. It reads, "In loving memory of Rita Gutierrez-Garcia. For the rest of our lives, we will search for moments full of you.”
When her family sits on the bench they can see the tree they wanted to adopt and share a quiet moment with their daughter, sister and friend.
"Normally when you lose someone you go to the site of their burial. And, you know, we don’t have that. So now we have something that represents that for us," said Romero.
The bench will be dedicated on Gutierrez-Garcia's birthday — this Sunday, April 7. She would have turned 36 years old. Her family plans to have a celebration with cupcakes because she loved parties.
"She liked to celebrate her birthday and she liked laughing and having fun, so that’s what we’re hoping. We wanted a day of celebration, not a day of mourning. We’re going to celebrate her life," said Romero.
A $10,000 reward is being offered for information that leads to the missing woman or the arrest of a suspect or suspects. Police ask people to call (303) 774-3700 for the police tip line to e-mail tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.