Marta Ramirez Mendez, who has been missing since Sept. 30, is a native of Guatemala. She came to Cleburne County to live with her brother-in-law Hector Chun and sister Alicia Mendez. The family speaks little English, Benefield said. Marta Mendez, 16, was attending Cleburne County High School when she disappeared and her family reported her missing through the school’s interpreters, he said.
Language and culture have been barrier in the investigation, Benefield said.
He believes the teen’s family doesn’t trust the Police Department and isn’t telling the officers everything, he said.
“They never contacted us,” he said. “The school contacted us. Since the beginning of this investigation, Hector nor the sister has contacted us to see, ‘Hey, what’s the status?’”
Mendez had a hearing with the Citizenship and Immigration Services in Birmingham in December which she missed, said Heflin Investigator Josh Barnett, who is investigating the case. It has been rescheduled before immigration court in Atlanta on June 24, 2015, he said.
“We don’t know if it’s the fact that she doesn’t have legal citizenship right now,” Barnett said.
But whatever is causing the barrier, it makes the investigation even harder, Benefield said.
“This has been a really tough one,” confirmed Johnny Vaughn, vice president of the Southeast Division of Bikers Urban Response Needed, a division of Center for Search and Investigations for Missing Children. “This is one of the hardest ones we’ve had.”
The group joined the search for Mendez in December. The language barrier is the biggest problem, Vaughn said. Even though the group has Spanish-speaking members, there are many different dialects of that language, he said.
“It slows things down,” Vaughn said. “But it’s not anything we can’t get around.”
The leads the group has received have led police to believe that Mendez is in the area, Barnett said. He and Benefield think the help is invaluable. Benefield said the members can devote all their time to finding the missing teen, while he and the other officers are working on several cases at any one time.
Vaughn said the bikers’ group currently has eight or nine members working on locating Mendez. That’s not as many as they’d like to have but they plan to keep looking until they have exhausted all their resources, he said.
Once the group is finished, usually after 90 days, the case will be taken up by another division of the center, Vaughn said, which uses equestrian searchers, truckers and search dogs.
Marta Ramirez Mendez was last seen Sept. 30 about 4:20 a.m. at her home on U.S. 431 in the Hollis Crossroads area. She is 5 feet 3 inches tall and weighs about 110 pounds. She has brown eyes and black hair. Anyone with information about Mendez is asked to call the Heflin police at 256-463-2291. Anyone who sees Mendez should call 911.
Staff Writer Laura Camper 256-463-2872. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.