About every two weeks, Gloria Guardado visits her older sister Patty. Like most sisters, she catches her up about what’s going on in her life.
“I just kind of sit there sometimes. Sometimes I play music,” the 21-year-old said. She admits, in the peaceful stillness, she’ll occasionally fall asleep.
There’s no response from her sister, other than the words engraved in Spanish on Patty’s headstone: “Life goes on, I won’t be far. If you need me, think of me. Although you can’t see or touch me I’ll be among all of you and you’ll feel me within the love in your hearts.”
For the past 10 years, Gloria, sisters Jacque and Edith, both 19, brother Martin, 28, father Martin Guardado and mother Leonor Garcia have made this solemn pilgrimage to Patty’s grave.
On Oct. 12, 2011, Patricia Guardado, 20, a parishioner at St. Edward Church in Little Rock, went missing, never making it to her morning class at the University of Arkansas Little Rock after parking at a Burger King across from campus. Her body was found four days later, Oct. 16, by two fishermen in a strip mining pit filled with water near the Sweet Home cemetery in Pulaski County. Her murder has remained unsolved for 10 years, but her family hangs onto hope that her killer will one day be caught.
“It's hard every day waking up knowing my daughter's not here anymore,” Leonor said in Spanish, with Gloria translating. “But this month is extra hard, this year specifically also knowing it’s such a big anniversary. Ten years is a long time.”
Tears streamed down Leonor’s face as she talked about her oldest child, her “first love.” The petite Patty, who loved dancing, was a first-generation American; her family is originally from Mexico.
“She was smart, she loved going to church, she loved helping out. She was always really responsible. She liked going to school, she loved going to work,” Leonor said.
Whether it was 5 a.m. Mass for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe or Sunday Mass with family, Patty wanted to be at St. Edward.
“The people at church, at St. Edward, specifically remember her so vividly because about a week before she went missing, she was volunteering at Oktoberfest ... and she was there all weekend,” Gloria said. “What other 20-year-old is going to be at church all weekend helping to sell food and volunteering?”
In 2010, Patty visited Vatican City. She came back changed, even more on fire for her Catholic faith.
Father Jason Tyler, former pastor at St. Edward Church, said, “She was one of those visible smiling faces you liked to have around.”
Gloria, who was 11 when her sister was killed, admitted she was the typical annoying little sister, stealing Patty’s makeup and clothes, all to be “just like her.”
“My mom worked a lot, so she’d take me to volleyball games; she was like a second mom,” Gloria said.
Patty was a sophomore at UALR studying international business, on track to graduate a year early, while also excelling as a bank teller and babysitting her cousins in the evenings.
“‘We’re going to start going on trips,’” she told Leonor. “She’s like, ‘Oh I’m going to be making money now, we’re going to be able to do so many things.’”
On Oct. 11, 2011, Leonor and the girls stayed late with Patty while she babysat, a rarity, because the younger sisters had to go to school the next day.
“Maybe it was God telling me, stay with her today, stay with her right now,” Leonor said.
The unsettling feeling remained the next morning. With hair and make-up done just right, the sun shimmered off of the windows of the house, illuminating her daughter as she rushed out of their home, Leonor said.
“‘Oh you look so pretty today,’” Leonor told Patty. “She said, ‘Oh, you’re just saying that because you’re my mom. Well bye, I’m going to go now.’’”
It was the last time she’d see her daughter alive.
That evening, Gloria spotted her car parked in the fast food parking lot where she would occasionally park when campus parking was full. Patty was not there; nor were any of her belongings.
“When we called the police, they were really quick to get there,” Leonor said, and the investigation began. The family was told by police that both traffic cameras near the two entrances to Burger King were not working. On Friday, Oct. 14, about 200 gathered at St. Edward to pray for her safe return.
After four days of searching, on Sunday Oct. 16, Leonor went to Mass.
“I was just praying, ‘Please bring me my daughter, bring me my daughter at church that day.’ Thankfully, I got my daughter back, just not the way I wanted her,” Leonor said.
While at the church, she received a call from the detective. An unidentified body of a young woman had been found. The next day, DNA results were a match to Patty. Father Tyler broke the news to the family in Spanish.
“It was horrendous,” Father Tyler said. “When she first disappeared like so many others, I had a hope she was alive somewhere.”
Patty’s brother Martin, then 18, who was her best friend, almost fainted. The young sisters were brought together to hear the news.
“They were like, ‘Go hug your mom,’” Gloria said. “She just hugged me so hard, she wasn’t letting me go. They just told me, ‘They took her from us, she’s gone.’”
Patty’s family visits the Little Rock Police Department regularly, but because it remains an active investigation, they are not given many details of the case. The police released the following statement to Arkansas Catholic: “The Little Rock Police Department is committed to working collaboratively to resolve all cold cases; more specifically, the Patricia Guardado case which is currently actively being investigated. While we have several persons of interest, there is more to be done to make sure the evidence supports the investigation.”
Gloria said they were told police believe Patty was killed Oct. 12, the same day she went missing. The family prefers to keep the specific cause of death confidential.
“Our whole family just needs that closure,” Gloria said. “We don’t know why, we don’t know who did it. We don’t know why they did it. We know she couldn’t have done anything to make someone do something so horrible to her. There's no way she could have hurt somebody that bad. It’s hard for us to live like that. My mom still drives her car, Patty’s car, that she was driving that day.”
After 10 years, much has changed. Her parents have since divorced. Her brother Martin is serving in the U.S. Army. All three sisters are in college, two at UALR and one at Pulaski Technical College. The family attends both St. Edward and Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Little Rock.
“We still live every day scared. My younger sister goes to UALR. She gets stressed out, ‘I can’t find parking, I can’t find parking, what am I going to do?’ It’s just something you live with every day,” Gloria said. “If I’m in the car by myself, and there’s someone following me for a suspiciously long time, I’ll take an extra turn.”
The family’s faith was shattered and with time, has been pieced back together.
“At the beginning you have a crisis of faith. You think why us, why her? She was such a strong believer, she was always there. And I would just talk to God, ‘You knew this was going to happen and why couldn’t you do anything?’ You have that weird relationship with God, you have that anger,” Leonor said, adding that she reconnected with her faith because of her children. “He is giving me the strength to keep going.”
Anyone with information regarding Guardado’s case is encouraged to call the LRPD tip line, (501) 371-INFO (4636). Listen to the full interview with Leonor Garcia and Gloria Guardado on the Arkansas Catholic Asks podcast.
Please read our Comments Policy before posting.Article comments powered by Disqus