The remains of what police believe to be the body of Laura Garza, a 25-year-old Texas native who went missing over a year ago, were identified over the weekend. DNA tests confirmed that bones—originally discovered by ATV riders on April 11th in an out-of-the-way mining area of Mount Cobb, PA— were definitely those of the aspiring dancer.
"After such a long time we did have hope she was going to come in the door and put her arms around us," Garza's aunt, Isela Villalobos, told the NY Daily News. "Unfortunately, that is not happening. We knew that, but I guess we didn't want to accept that."
For now, the family is taking solace in the fact that the discovery of Laura's remains will only make the murder case against accused sex offender Michael Mele that much stronger. "It went from a good case to a great case," said Villalobos.
"This certainly moves our case forward," concurred New York State Police Lt. Pierce Gallagher. "It's certainly easier to prove a homicide when you have a body."
The last time Laura Garza was seen alive was on security cameras leaving NYC club Marquee with Michael Mele at around 3AM on Dec. 3, 2008.
ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DEC. 11, 2008
Laura Garza, 25, moved from McAllen, Texas to New York City with big dreams. The pretty brunette Texana had visions of becoming a successful dancer. After the death of her father, Laura visited the city and decided that the Big Apple was where she would pursue her goals. “She was just looking for something new,” Christina Guerrero, one of her closest friends from McAllen, told the NY Daily News, “She wanted to start a new life.” Unfortunately, those dreams were cut short when she went missing.
Garza was last spotted flirting and dancing with Michael Mele at NYC hot spot Marquee in the hours before she went missing. After reviewing cell phone records and finding a machete and a woman’s shoe in a search of Mele’s home and surrounding property, police now fear that Laura is dead. Mele was covered in bites and scratches when they arrived to ask him questions and search his residence.
Mele is a registered sex offender. He was most recently arrested for sexually assaulting women in a mall parking lot in April of 2007. For those crimes he received the equivalent of a slap on the wrist, sentenced to serve probation only. Some have speculated that Mele may have been given special treatment due to his father’s former role as MTA Assistant Deputy Police Chief. Others are wondering why Mele was allowed to roam the streets, looking for his next victim, when he had blatantly violated the terms of his probation. Mele repeatedly skipped out on mandatory Sex Offender Specific treatment sessions and moved from his parent’s home in Newburgh, NY to an apartment in Wallkill without notifying authorities.
At his recent bail hearing, prosecutors slammed Michael for these violations, but it seems too little, too late—at least for Laura Garza. Garza’s family is till holding out hope that she may be alive. Holding a photo of her daughter, Garza’s mother Elizabeth Esquivel wept at her home in Texas as she pleaded, “Please bring her back and tell me where she is. We love you so much. If you can hear me, I can’t live without you.”