Task force to look into Calico disappearance

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Two weeks after the 25th anniversary of Tara Calico’s disappearance, Valencia County Sheriff Louis Burkhard has formed a task force of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to take another look at the case.

Tara Calico left her Rio Communities home on the morning of Sept. 20, 1988, for a bike ride on N.M. 47 and hasn’t been seen since. For her family and friends, these past 2 1/2 decades have been riddled with unanswered questions about what really happened to the 19-year-old who had her whole life in front of her.

Tara Calico Missing since Sept. 20, 1988

Burkhard said the task force, comprised of officers and agents from the Valencia County Sheriff’s Department, Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department, Albuquerque Police Department, New Mexico State Police and Homeland Security Investigation, will be working hand-in-hand to investigate Calico’s disappearance.

Along with the task force, a toll-free tip line, 1-855-542-0952, has been set up for people to leave messages about information they might have about the case.

Calico’s family said they are happy about this new development and are grateful for this new investigation and for the task force’s assistance in trying to uncover the truth about what happened 25 years ago.

“My hope is that all of the people that have come forward to tell what they knew, that they have the strength and courage to do it again and I encourage it,” said Michele Doel, Tara’s stepsister. “We would appreciate it.

“It’s been a long time, and a lot if the information we had at the time is no longer there and we really need the community to help again,” she said. “We need them because the information they have maybe the piece of the puzzle that disappeared.”

Doel said her family has had a lot of support from the community and appreciate that they haven’t forgot about Tara and continue to seek justice and closure.

“The 25th anniversary just came up and I’ve been looking at this for quite some time,” Burkhard said Tuesday. “I’ve been talking with (Bernalillo County) Sheriff Dan Houston, and between the two of us, we decided that this was the time to take a good, hard look at it.”

The sheriff said he’s been in contact with Houston for about a year regarding the case, and Houston has featured Calico on a deck of playing cards he’s distributed in the county jail, and has featured her on the department’s cold case website.

“Now that our staff is fully staffed, we’re going to be able to commit a detective to this task force as well,” Burkhard said.

The sheriff said the importance of the task force is having this large of group of professional law enforcement agencies working together and using numerous resources to specifically look at this case. The task force will look at all the evidence gathered thus far in the case and interview and re-interview potential witnesses.

“Sometimes we solve cold cases with just one little piece that puts us on the right path,” Burkhard said. “We have the resources and the cooperation from all of these agencies and this is something we need to do.”

Some of the task force members have already started looking at the case file and some of the evidence still stored at the sheriff’s department. Burkhard said they will then start tracking down people who had any part of this.

“We’re going to take a very close look at every detail,” he said. “We will probably, at some point, establish a time table as to how long we’ll investigate. But at this time, as we re-open it, we’ll leave it open-ended and see where it takes us.”

While the sheriff hasn’t received any new information about Calico’s case, he said he is following up on information provided by a retired deputy in Georgia regarding the body of a woman he found nearly 25 years ago on the side of a highway. She has never been identified.

“There’s no indication that it is (Calico),” Burkhard said. “We’ll take that information and make sure we exhaust everything on that before we say it isn’t her. We’d be remiss not to take a good, close look at it.”

When Rene Rivera was sheriff, he said he knew who killed Calico, but couldn’t make an arrest because he didn’t have the evidence, specifically the body. When asked if Rivera left any information about the suspects after leaving office, Burkhard said he wasn’t sure.

“That’s something that should have been placed as part of an investigation,” the sheriff said. “It’s part of an on-going investigation, and if he has information that he took with him, we perhaps might want to talk to him.”

Burkhard said at least one officer or agent from each agency will be involved in the task force. And depending where the investigation leads, they can draw from other sources as well.

“Hopefully, this will turn up something that will work,” the sheriff said. “We really didn’t get this going until a couple of weeks ago, wanting to find out what other resources were available to us.

When asked if he was confident the task force could solve this case, Burkhard said, “I wouldn’t re-open it if I didn’t think we might be able to turn something up. I don’t want to waste a lot of time, effort and resources, but I think this is an important case and we have an obligation to try to do something to it.”

And when asked if there’s any evidence that Calico is alive, Burkhard said, “There’s nothing there that would lead us to believe it, but we certainly wouldn’t discount it.”

The sheriff hopes today’s technology and resources, compared to what was available in 1988, will help them finally solve this case.


-- Email the author at cgarcia@news-bulletin.com.