Salt Lake police, the FBI and the mother of Rosa Tapia made a plea to the public Tuesday for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person who kidnapped, sexually assaulted and killed the little girl nearly 13 years ago.
In addition, a $30,000 reward was offered in hopes of generating new leads in a case that investigators admit has gone nowhere.
"There has been little if any progress on this case," said Assistant Police Chief Scott Atkinson. "There is just nothing here."
On Aug. 13, 1995, someone abducted Tapia through a bedroom window of the family's apartment near 1600 South and 1600 West, between 2 a.m. and 5:45 a.m. The body of the 6-year-old girl was found the next morning floating in the Jordan River surplus canal. Investigators say she was sexually assaulted and then drowned.
Despite a large search and 15 detectives working on the case at one point, no one was ever arrested and there were never any serious suspects. The case eventually went cold but was reopened in 2003. Although the trail of leads dried up, investigators say it was always on their minds.
"Such a heinous crime is never forgotten by law enforcement," said Tim Fuhrman, special agent-in-charge of the Utah Bureau of the FBI.
The Salt Lake police, the FBI and Meadow Gold Dairy are each contributing $10,000 to the $30,000 reward. The announcement of the reward was met with applause and cheers of "bravo" from Tapia's relatives and other community supporters.
"I know there must be someone out there who has information to help us solve this crime," said Salt Lake Mayor Ralph Becker.
Information that came to police shortly after the recent slaying of a store manager at the Family Dollar Store led to three arrests, which shows that when the community works together to solve a crime, "it can make a tremendous difference," Becker said.
Atkinson said there was some evidence in the case but admitted investigators are no closer to making an arrest or solving the crime today than they were 13 years ago. Other rewards had been offered in the Tapia case in the past with no success. But the department felt it was time to remind the community that there is still a family suffering and a crime that needs solving, he said.
Lewine Tapia said she still thinks a lot about her daughter, who would have turned 19 this year.
"I pray every morning she's doing OK," she said.
Lewine Tapia said it has been a hard 13 years since her daughter's death, but she has taken some solace knowing that Rosa is with her grandmother. She said she wishes Rosa could look down from heaven and help point out the person who was responsible for taking her.
"I'm not giving up hope," she said.
Lewine Tapia said she wanted to live to see her daughter's killer arrested. And if it takes longer than that, she said, her children have promised not to give up searching.
Tapia is hoping the reward will spark a renewed contact with the police department. When the case went cold, she said, she went a few years without talking to detectives.
There are also some feelings among Tapia's family that Rosa's case wasn't taken as seriously as it should have been during the first 24 hours of her being reported missing. Tapia admitted those feelings came up again in 2002 as she watched the massive effort that went into the search for Elizabeth Smart.
"I was a little disappointed because of that," she said. "Everyone should be treated equal."
But now that a reward has been offered and new life seemingly given to the case, Tapia said she was "happy that now we can all stand together and do something."
Atkinson said he believed the Rosa Tapia case was handled as well as it could have been at the time. With today's advances in DNA and forensic technology, he said there are obviously additional investigative tools available today that weren't around 13 years ago.
Since the early 1960s, Salt Lake police have had 108 unsolved homicides. Only two of those are child homicides Tapia and 10-year-old Anna Palmer in 1998. And while other high-profile slayings in Salt Lake City remain unsolved such as Palmer, Tiffany Hamilton in 1986 and U. theater student Amy Quinton in 1999 police say the Tapia case is particularly vexing for them because they have absolutely no leads, thus prompting Tuesday's reward.
Anyone with information on the Tapia case can call police at 799-3000 or the Tips for Cash line at 799-INFO.Also Tuesday, the Rosa Tapia Memorial Scholarship Fund was announced in conjunction with the Utah Coalition of La Raza. Donations to the fund can be made at any Wells Fargo bank branch. Anyone wishing to donate to the reward fund can also do that at Wells Fargo. If the reward money goes untouched, it will be donated to the scholarship.
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