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30 years later: Abduction of Gallup girl continues to intrigue local residents

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Sister carries the torch of hope

There are few things in this world that are more disturbing, and more catastrophic than having a loved one go missing. For family and friends, there’s the inescapable worrying and hope that their loved one will return home someday. Also, the nagging, torturous thoughts about what befell their loved one.

In Gallup, the alleged kidnapping of Anthonette Cayedito, who was 9-years-old at the time of her disappearance, continues to haunt, intrigue and baffle local residents. At first, it was reported that she went missing from her bedroom on April 6, 1986 – 30 years ago.Heartbreak and pain

The child’s mother, Penny Cayadito, told police that she last saw her daughter fast asleep at 3 am, but a parent’s worst nightmare came true some hours later when Penny went to check on Cayedito in her bedroom and discovered that she had vanished.

Sure, there were a few leads solid along the way.

First, it was a phone call to the Gallup Police Department from a frantic young girl claiming to be Cayedito, telling the dispatcher that she was in Albuquerque. Before she could divulge any further information, a man yelled at her, then grabbed the phone. The young girl let out some blood curling screams before the man hung up the phone.

Penny Cayedito, now deceased, told the crew from the reality show “Unsolved Mysteries,” which aired a segment on Cayedito’s disappearance in 1992, that the voice was indeed her daughter’s. “And just by the way she says her last name, and the way she screamed sends chills all over my body,” she said. “A mother knows, and I know that was her.”

Next, there was the reported  sighting of a young girl matching her description, who reportedly left a “please help me” note on a napkin at a Carson City, NV diner. By the time the waitress saw the note, the reportedly bedraggled couple and young girl were long gone.

To add to the mystery, some years later, the missing girl’s sister, Wendy Montoya, came forward, claiming two men knocked at the door and swept her sister away into the night.

Montoya said she was too scared to tell anyone about the incident, but finally opened up about it to the producers and crew of “Unsolved Mysteries.” She told the show, and law enforcement officials, that two men knocked on the door, with at least one of them claiming to be their “Uncle Joe.” Montoya said that Cayedito opened the door and was immediately carried off.

Montoya explained that one of the men covered her sister’s mouth and carried her to a brown van. She said the man she thinks they were referring to is her step-uncle Joe Estrada, and she said police and FBI cleared him of any involvement in the case.

Heartbreak and pain

Montoya, who was the only family member interviewed for this story, has been plagued by guilt for years after her revelation to “Unsolved Mysteries.”

“I was so scared. If I had said something sooner, they probably would have found her,” she said, bursting into tears.

Montoya’s guilt only mounted over the years, and she said her peers at school would taunt and tease her about her missing sister, which only fueled her anger. She described her teen and early adult years as rebellious and drug-addled, eventually getting clean and sober 10 years ago, and settling in sunny Southern California with her husband and five children, ages 5 to 15.

Montoya said her mother paid a hefty emotional price for her daughter’s dissapearance. To cope, Penny Cayedito turned to alcohol and was even institutionalized at times. Montoya said her mother was questioned on whether she could have known the kidnappers, but she couldn’t provide those answers to investigators.

A lie detector given to her mother provided “inclusive” results, Montoya said.

Already highly sociable, as Montoya explained it, her home at the time, across from the Rainbow Bread Company, was a place where people came and went. In April of 1986, Montoya was the baby at age 5, and her middle sister Sadie was 7, and Anthonette Cayedito was 9. Montoya said the address of that home was possibly 1106 W. Aztec Ave – at least that’s the one that always pops into her memory.

“My mom was always going out,” she said. “We had a lot of people coming over to our house.”

Meanwhile, as another rumbling train moved through Gallup, and the repeated blows of the engineer’s whistle nearly broke the flow of an April 6 phone interview with Montoya, at that moment, she said her mother Penny Cayedito passed away April 18, 1999. It was the same day she received a positive result on a pregnancy test.

Some days earlier, Montoya said that she had told her mom that she might be pregnant. Her mom, who had plans to see a doctor that day, said they would discuss it that evening. She never came home. Penny Cayedito died from a combination of cardiac complications and cirrhosis of the liver.

Present search

Notwithstanding, the pain of the 30th anniversary of her sister’s disappearance makes Montoya even more determined to find her. She has been moved by all of the media outlets that have reached out to her to run stories on the milestone anniversary.

“Throughout the years there’s been no updates,” she said. “I’m not going to accept that she’s dead. I need proof.”

Montoya said some of her frustrations stem from her interactions with Gallup Police Department detectives. She even claims that one official told her that the department no longer had the files or evidence on Cayedito, and what she views as the constant change in detectives handling the case – and that change reportedly occurring without notice to her – has left her feeling jaded about the department’s intentions on her sister’s case.

Gallup Police Department Lt. Rosanne Morrissette said regarding the evidence possibly missing in action, that is simply not the case. There’s a box of evidence and reports sitting next to her desk. She explained that some cases may turn cold, but they are never closed.

“The case is still open and the box is still in the office,” she said, adding that “it’s something there to remind us” that a little girl went missing in Gallup 30 years ago and has never been found.

Anyone with information on this case is encouraged to call Crimestoppers at (505) 722-6161. You can remain anonymous.

By Babette Herrmann
Sun Editor

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