Found Remains ID'd as Missing Colo. Mom Who Vanished While Celebrating St. Patrick's Day in 2018

Rita Gutierrez-Garcia was last seen in an alley behind a bar after celebrating St. Patrick's Day with friends

Photo: Longmont Fire, Police and OEM/Facebook

Authorities announced they have recovered the remains of a Colorado mom who went missing from a bar more than four years ago.

According to a joint press release issued by the Boulder County District Attorney's Office and the Longmont Department of Public Safety on Thursday, Rita Gutierrez-Garcia's remains were discovered in an area located in Weld County, Colo., about 15 miles outside of Boulder.

"This is no longer a missing person investigation," Gutierrez-Garcia's sister said in the release.

Preliminary results from DNA analysis confirmed the remains belonged to the 34-year-old missing mom of three, who was last seen by friends in an alley behind a bar on March 18, 2018, around 2:30 a.m.

Gutierrez-Garcia and her friends had been celebrating St. Patrick's Day the night leading into her early morning disappearance.

Juan Figueroa Jr., 33, who was identified as a possible suspect early on in the case, will plead guilty to the first-degree murder and kidnapping of Gutierrez-Garcia, the release read.

According to court documents, Gutierrez-Garcia and Figueroa had "briefly interacted" with each other at a bar shortly before she went missing.

Phone tower data indicated the location of Gutterez-Garcia's phone matched the location in which Figueroa's car traveled between 2:30 a.m. and 3:10 a.m., the documents read. During that time frame, police said they received a "911 hang up call" from the victim's phone. Two attempts to return Gutierrez-Garcia's call were unsuccessful. Shortly after, her phone reportedly dropped off the network.

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On March 20, 2018, Figueroa fled the state of Colorado for Mexico, according to the documents. While attempting to cross back into the U.S. on March 27, 2018, he was arrested for the attempted murder and sexual assault of another woman. He was found guilty and is currently serving a 93-years-to-life sentence.

Figueroa allegedly confessed to his cell mate about Gutierrez-Garcia's death and disappearance. He said after she called him a "weirdo," he punched her, knocked her unconscious and strangled her, according to court records.

He also confessed to burning his clothes and dumping the victim's body "in an area not accessible to the public."

Using a wiretap, investigators said Figueroa admitted to burying her body and "the only way anyone would find it is if police inserted a probe into his brain."

In June 2021, a Grand Jury indicted Figueroa for the murder and kidnapping of Gutierrez-Garcia in a "no-body homicide."

Now that her remains have been recovered, Figueroa's guilty plea and sentencing is scheduled for June 3, the DA said. There will be no trial.

Guttierrez-Garcia, who was one semester away from obtaining her paralegal degree, left behind three sons.

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