SALT LAKE CITY — On Sunday, Rosie Tapia would have turned 21.
There will be balloons and flowers to mark the occasion this weekend. But the celebration will be somber.
Even though Rosie would have been an adult, she will always be remembered as the little 6-year-old girl with the big smile. The one that her brothers lovingly called "Beaver" because of her two large front teeth.
"I think about her all the time," her mother, Lewine Tapia said Thursday, wiping back tears. "I just wonder what she would look like, how she would be."
Rosie Tapia was abducted from her Glendale bedroom, murdered and her body dumped in a Jordan River surplus canal in 1995. This August will mark the 15-year anniversary of her death. No one has ever been arrested in connection with her case.
But Salt Lake police have been actively working the cold case, and the family has hopes they may finally get the breakthrough they've been waiting for.
Last week, a detective working the case told Lewine Tapia that Rosie's fingernail clippings, preserved since her death, were sent to a laboratory to be checked for possible DNA evidence, Tapia said.
In addition, she said that a person of interest who might have known where Rosie was taken after being abducted, was talking to investigators.
Salt Lake Police Sgt. Robin Snyder could not comment on the fingernails or the person of interest. She would only say Thursday that physical evidence had been collected in the case, and that police have investigated several people of interest for a long time.
Because Salt Lake City's homicide rate was so low in 2009, it has given detectives more time to work cold cases, she said. Twenty-four of the city's approximately 100 cold cases were actively being investigated, Snyder said, with multiple detectives working each case.
Earlier this month, Salt Lake police and the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office announced charges in the 1998 murder of 10-year-old Anna Palmer. Palmer, along with Tapia, was one of the city's highest profile cold case murders. Advances in forensics technology and the ability to find DNA on Palmer's fingernails lead to murder charges being filed against an Idaho inmate who used to live in the neighborhood.
Lewine Tapia watched news reports of the breakthrough in the Palmer investigation.
"When I seen that, I was happy for the family. But it also saddened me because it's been 14 years now, and there have been no leads for us at all," she said.
In Lewine Tapia's home, there are framed pictures and memorials of Rosie all around the living room. A large sketch drawing hangs on a wall. The last school photo of Rosie sits on a stand. A large glass case contains many of Rosie's dolls and possessions still preserved as well as a dress. Tapia moved years ago from the apartment where her daughter was abducted.
Although the latest information from detectives seems to be the most promising her family has had in a long time, Lewine tries to keep her emotions in check.5 comments on this story
"I try not to get so hopeful because I've been let down so many times so I get sick," said Tapia, who was hospitalized last year.
She said she knows Salt Lake detectives are working hard on the case. Snyder said her department does not put any cold case above another because of publicity. But in the case of Tapia, in which a child was killed and the killer never found, she admitted the case has stood out both to the city and the department.
"This is one that haunts our retired detectives who worked the case. They became attached to Rosie. Every detective that has worked this case has wanted to solve it so badly and that's no different now," she said.