My last blog was about the horrific murder of 25year-old Gloria Daniela Lopez, known as “Daniela,” in Ambato, Ecuador, on September 9, 2009. She was an American student doing volunteer summer work. He mother, also an American citizen, has been pressing the search for her killers ever since.
Progress has been extremely slow. Gloria Lopez blames the foot-dragging on ineptitude, inadequate crime investigative techniques and her lack of funds she says the police demand to work on cases.
Gloria thinks she knows who the killer is, and it turns out the courts agree with her! Her daughter was living with a cousin of Gloria’s in the family’s long-time home. The day after the murder the cousin, Carmen Lema, disappeared and has not returned since.
In December, the court in Ambato ruled that there was enough evidence to bring Lema to trial in absentia. But they are hoping to arrest her first so she can be tried in person. Three months have gone by, and no capture has been made.
To add to the intrigue, Lema’s son has worked occasionally on Protective duty for the President of Ecuador. Although there have been reports of sightings around the country, the woman continuously eludes arrest. Curiously, Gloria claims the night the body was found, video cameras captured two unidentified women viewing the body at the morgue. Their faces were not visible.
Why would her relative want to kill Daniela? Gloria suggests several motives. She says that Lema may have wanted to create an “unobstructed path to property that our family owns” for her heirs. She also thinks it’s conceivable that a kidnapping-ransom plot was devised and went “horribly out of hand.” And finally she says it’s possible that Lema may be part of one of the countless small-scale criminal organizations (known as “bandas”) that exist throughout Ecuador and Latin America, and Daniela may have discovered some information about the group. Gloria even suspects that members of the local police may be involved. This would help explain, she thinks, why some key evidence, such as Daniela’s clothes, have disappeared from police custody, and would also explain why Lema hasn’t been arrested although police officials have admitted to Gloria that they have discovered her whereabouts on various occasions. When they try to pick her up, she’s gone. But the truth, Gloria says, “I do not know.”
The FBI can only get involved in overseas cases when invited by the native government. According to the American Counsel, in this case the FBI was asked to help with DNA evidence which they had processed in the United States and then returned to Ecuadorian police. The FBI has offered further assistance, but cannot proceed on its own.
Jennifer Savage, the American Counsel in Ecuador, says she sees a pending trial as progress, but says the embassy has to respect the local authorities.
“This case is one of our highest priorities,” she says, “and we bring it up at every level, at every opportunity. Our role is to continue to push so the case does not grow cold. “ But, as she has noted, there’s been no arrest.
So, it is still frustrating for Daniela’s family. And it is possible that despite the court’s intentions there may never be closure, for there seem to be so many unsolved crimes and reports of corruption in third world countries. How a family lives with such tragedy and with no persecution of the felons, I do not know. A creeping bitterness has replaced some of the distress in Gloria’s outlook, and she feels as if nobody really cares, but still she goes on with her pursuit. She has been back to Ecuador three times to do what she can in the investigation. What would we do if, God forbid, it was our child? After all, justice withheld, is justice denied.