A family in New Mexico is desperately searching for a 20-year-old Army National Guardsman who has been missing since February.
Juan Muñoz of Taos, New Mexico, was last seen on Saturday, February 20, 2021, and was scheduled to spend the weekend at the National Guard Armory in Rio Rancho, but he reportedly never returned for drill on Sunday.
Juan was reported missing by his sergeant later that day when his car was located at the Río Grande Gorge Bridge near Taos. His belongings, including his wallet, ID, debit card, cell phone and car keys, were inside the vehicle.
Elizabeth Rivera told Dateline she found out her son was missing when New Mexico State Police officers showed up at her door in Taos on Sunday, February 21.
“I don’t know where he could be,” Elizabeth said. “It doesn’t make sense.”
Elizabeth told Dateline that security guards working at the Río Grande Gorge Bridge later reported they had seen Juan’s car in a parking lot near the bridge on the evening of February 20. They told family members that the vehicle had pulled into the lot around 8 p.m., followed by another car. The second vehicle stayed for several minutes and then sped off, heading east across the bridge into Taos, the guards told the family.
According to a statement from the New Mexico State Police, search dogs were brought in and “confirmed that Munoz’s scent was on the bridge.” Extensive searches using drones and kayaks were conducted by the state police below the bridge and several miles downstream, but there was no sign of Juan. The NMSP dive team was also brought in, but were unable to get any of their equipment into the water due to low water levels, according to the statement.
Lieutenant Mark Soriano with the New Mexico State Police told Dateline that Juan’s disappearance is under investigation.
Juan’s mother told Dateline that many people believe her son jumped from the bridge, but she said it’s uncharacteristic for him to leave without contacting anyone, and that he would not take his own life.
However, Juan’s sergeant told his family that Juan was acting “more quiet than usual” prior to his disappearance.
The Río Grande Gorge Bridge has one the highest bridge suicide rates per capita in the country, according to previous news coverage.
“He’s quiet and responsible,” Juan’s mother told Dateline. “If there was fighting or drama, he just stayed away… on the sidelines.”
Along with being in the Army National Guard, Juan also worked at the Taos Retirement Village and the Taos Living Center. His mother added that he had applied for a job at the Albuquerque Police Department and was investing in a 401(k) retirement plan. A few days before Juan disappeared, he had just gotten a haircut and ordered new clothes.
“He’s had plans for his life,” his mother said. “I’m just scared that something happened. We just need to know more. We need help.”
Juan’s family say they haven’t given up hope as they turn to the public for help, offering a cash reward for any information leading to Juan’s whereabouts. A Facebook page Help Find Juan Muñoz has been created to share updates on the case.
“Maybe someone saw something,” Juan’s mother said. “Or saw the other car. We just need more information. Please call the police.”
Juan isn’t the only person who has gone missing from the bridge, leaving their cars behind.
This month, the body of a 42-year-old Montana woman was found in the Río Grande Gorge after three weeks of searching, according to a Facebook post by the Taos County Sheriff’s Office.
In 2016, Holly White of Taos, was reported missing after her car was found parked in the Río Grande Gorge bridge parking lot. In February 2020, local musician Melissa Crabtree’s car was found near the bridge. Neither of their bodies has been recovered.
According to the Taos News, the state Legislature set aside capital outlay for a project in House Bill 285, which will give Taos County $150,000 for “Río Grande Gorge safety improvements.” The measure includes putting up cameras in the area with the help of the New Mexico Department of Transportation. It was signed into law Friday.
Juan’s mother told Dateline it’s long overdue for cameras to be installed in the area around the bridge, and believes it could have helped to find her son weeks ago.
“Now, we just pray,” she said. “We pray and hope that we find him soon.”
Juan is described as being 5’8” tall and weighs about 150 lbs. He has black hair, brown eyes, and has tattoos on both arms. His mother said he was most likely wearing his uniform at the time of his disappearance.