Excavation operations began in Kern County Thursday in an effort to find the remains of a Long Beach woman who went missing 16 years ago and is believed to have been murdered.
Diana Rojas, 27, was last seen Oct. 20, 2000, at an apartment in the 5500 block of Ackerfield Avenue, where she lived with her 2-year-old daughter, according to the Long Beach Police Department.
Rojas missed an appointment she had scheduled for Oct. 21, 2000, police said. Her family called police the next day when they were unable to find her or her Nissan pickup.
“At the time of Diana’s disappearance, her daughter was in the care of a family member at another residence. By all accounts, it was uncharacteristic for Diana to leave her child without warning,” police said.
After collecting evidence from her apartment and interviewing relatives and friends, the trail went cold, police said.
Her pickup was never found. It was a 1992 Nissan Extended Cab pickup, black with white pinstripes, with Texas license number BY3242. Police circulated her photo and described her as being of Filipino and Hispanic descent, 5 feet 2 inches tall, 115 pounds, with brown hair and eyes.
More recently, however, “detectives received an anonymous tip that Diana was deceased and a location where she could possibly be located,” police said.
The investigation led police to Ridgecrest, where detectives believe the woman’s remains may be buried.
“Utilizing satellite images of Ridgecrest, (investigators) pinpointed areas where there were inconsistencies to the topography.” police said.
Detectives used specially trained cadaver dogs from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to search the areas, and the dogs “showed interest in one,” police said.
About 8 a.m. Thursday, Long Beach police detectives, along with the Ridgecrest Police Department, Kern County Sheriff’s Department and a “NecroSearch” team, aided by ground-penetrating radar, began excavating the “first area of interest” in Ridgecrest — near West Boston Avenue and South Guam Street, police said.
“The first area of interest … was explored and ruled out,” said Marlene Arrona of the Long Beach Police Department. “About 12:30 p.m., investigators began exploring a second area of interest.”
Ultimately, four areas — all in the same general vicinity — were searched, but no human remains were found, Arrona said.
Detectives are pursuing tips that have been received since Wednesday and are hopeful more people come forward with information, she said.
NecroSearch is a multidisciplinary team of scientists and investigators who assist law enforcement in the location of clandestine graves and the recovery of evidence.
The two NecroSearch scientists assisting in the search are a forensic geologist and a forensic geophysicist with more than 70 years of combined experience in locating clandestine graves.
Anyone with information to help solve the crime was urged to call homicide Detectives Mark Bigel and Todd Johnson at (562) 570-7244, or Crime Stoppers at (800) 222-TIPS.
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–City News Service
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