Documentary seeks answers 29 years after college student vanished

Tara Calico. (Photo Provided/KRQE)

BELEN, N.M. (KRQE) – It is one of New Mexico’s greatest mysteries: A young woman from a small, typically seen as a safe town vanished without a trace.

Rumors and so many questions have been circling for the last 29 years. Now, there is renewed hope that answers may also finally be found regarding the disappearance of Tara Calico.

On a rural highway south of Belen on Sept. 20, 1988, college student Tara Calico, who was 19 at the time, vanished.

Now, 29 years later her family is still searching for answers.

“This isn’t just an urban legend, just a story out there, or a photograph or something people heard about or warned kids about,” Michele, Tara’s sister, said. “This was a person and she deserves it.”

Her sister is not ready to stop looking and, after years of disappointment, she is now taking matters into her own hands with the help of a friend.

Melinda Esquibel didn’t have many friends until she bonded with Tara on a band trip in high school.

“She said, ‘Nope, you are hanging with us’ and took me and hugged me and that is how we became friends,” Esquibel said.

After Tara’s disappearance, Esquibel moved on with life. Then after one Christmas dinner with friends, Tara came up again.

“The response I got from those at the table who were my classmates were ‘Oh Melinda, the whole town knows who did it,’” Melinda said.

It was after that conversation the justice for Tara Calico mission began.

Melinda Esquibel, who is a filmmaker, decided to create a documentary, but when she saw the case file at the sheriff’s office the mission took a new turn.

“They were in shambles … there were files with people’s names on it and there was nothing in there,” Esquibel said. “It was like, ‘OK, now what? What do we do now?’ So we started investigating.”

The investigation took them to places they didn’t expect.

According to Esquibel, people did not want to talk about what happened. Esquibel said through the course of her investigation that her life and her family’s lives have been threatened.

However, she said, progress in the investigation has been made.

According to Esquibel, different areas that were overlooked before are now being searched, unearthing secrets that have been hidden for years.

She also said she believes that there are too many powerful people involved who do not want the case to be solved.

“People have passed who have strong ties to the community who may have deflected people coming forward from talking and getting involved. I think that has made a difference,” Esquibel said.

Michele and Melinda have shared all the information they’ve gathered with investigators at the Valencia County Sheriff’s Department who remain the lead agency on the case.

The two are also releasing what they’ve learned through a podcast that is now being shared around the country.

Hollywood stars and many others are joining the fight “#JusticeForTara.”

Despite the picture many believed could have been Tara, found in a parking lot in Port St. Joe, Florida, months after her disappearance, Michele and Melinda believe the story goes no further than Valencia County.

Much of the information uncovered cannot be released to the public because the FBI and the sheriff’s department are still building a case. A new detective was recently appointed to the case.

Anyone with information, no matter how little, is asked to call the FBI tipline or the sheriff’s office.

You can listen to the podcast, “Vanished: The Tara Calico Investigation,” on iTunes, Stitcher or Google Play. You can also go directly to audioBoom.

For more information click here.