MIDLAND, Texas (KMID/KPEJ)- Family and friends of 20-year-old Madeline Molina Pantoja are holding on to hope as the search for the missing woman, who disappeared nine days ago, continues. Here is everything we know so far:
Pantoja, who works as a bartender at a local restaurant, went out with friends on May 10, and returned home around 11:00 p.m.; that’s the last time she was seen by family and friends. Friend Jasmine Hernandez said she had plans with Pantoja on May 11, when the pair planned to spend a day relaxing by the pool inside Pantoja’s apartment complex, located at 1711 West Francis.
Hernandez became worried when Pantoja didn’t return her calls that day.
“It’s very unlike her to cancel plans or just not return calls,” Hernandez said. The two women have been friends for more than four years, and Hernandez said Pantoja rarely went more than a couple of hours without responding.
Location services shared between the two friends showed that Pantoja’s phone was inside her home; that’s what caused Hernandez to stop by, just to check in. According to the Midland Police Department and Hernandez, Pantoja’s car was found in the apartment complex parking lot.
Hernandez said she knocked on Pantoja’s door several times, to no avail. Growing more concerned, Hernandez called Pantoja’s brother, who then joined her to continue knocking. Again, Pantoja didn’t answer her door and that’s when they asked a maintenance worker to let them inside to do a welfare check.
Hernandez said Pantoja’s phone, her purse, her car keys. and her dog were inside the apartment, but Pantoja was nowhere to be found. Early on the morning of May 12, Pantoja’s loved ones called 911.
In a statement Thursday, MPD said, “Since being alerted to the disappearance of Madeline Pantoja in the early morning hours of Friday, May 12, 2023, Detectives with the Midland Police Department have been working 24 hours a day using every tool and asset available to locate Madeline and discover the facts leading to her disappearance. The MPD remains in contact with the family regarding the investigation.”
However, Pantoja’s loved ones have said they don’t feel they are being heard. In response, and in hopes of getting some answers, a group of about 100 people gathered outside MPD Thursday evening with candles and signs calling for “justice” in what they called a “silent protest”.
The protest stemmed from what family and friends have called a “lack of investigation” on MPD’s part into Pantoja’s ex-boyfriend. The man, who has not been named by investigators or even identified as a person of interest, was allegedly the only other person with a key to Pantoja’s apartment. Friends said the couple previously lived together.
“We finally got into her apartment and her keys were in there, but the door was locked, and he (the ex-boyfriend) was the only one who had a key,” said Pantoja’s friend, Karen Ramos.
Additionally, residents of the apartment complex said they heard a man and woman arguing both inside and outside of Pantoja’s apartment the night she went missing. This, coupled with the fact that Pantoja and her ex reportedly broke up just weeks before her disappearance, has caused family and friends to question if the man might somehow be involved.
Security cameras from the apartment complex in which Pantoja disappeared were not working, according to Hernandez. And the few cameras that were working were live feed only, and did not record anyone entering or exiting the complex. In short, no one truly knows if Pantoja left on foot or by car. No one knows if she left with anyone, and no one knows what she was wearing. That’s what has family and friends so frustrated.
Because of the ongoing investigation, MPD has not given any specifics about the case and has not publicly named anyone who may have been questioned about Pantoja’s disappearance. This is typical in all active investigations.
Still, Pantoja’s loved ones have been actively searching in fields, landfills, and have deployed video drones to search in places that cannot be accessed on foot. They’ve also asked for more information and communication from MPD.
In response, Mayor Lori Blong and Chief of Police, Seth Herman, held a news conference Friday to upate the community on the investigation.
“At this time, we have no reason to believe that there is a present threat to the community,” Blong began. “I cannot imagine the stress and concern and worry of Madeline’s family and friends…we know that Madeline is a daughter, and a sister, and a friend to many…so to those that know and love her, please know that we join you in prayer for her swift and safe return.”
Blong went on to assure that investigators have been working “tirelessly” to find the missing woman but stressed that there is some information that cannot be shared with the public because the investigation is ongoing and active.
Herman echoed that statement but did say that MPD, along with teams from the Midland County Sheriff’s Office, Texas Rangers, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Department of Homeland Security have been working around the clock since Pantoja was reported missing.
So far, Herman said that teams have searched 60 square miles of remote property, using human assets, as well as technology, including drones, and manned aircraft. Investigators have also executed more than 12 search warrants for both physical property and technology. Additionally, investigators have interviewed more than 25 people and have followed up on more than 20 tips.
“Please be assured…should evidence suggest foul play, criminal enforcement actions will be taken without delay,” Herman said.
He also stressed the importance of allowing law enforcement agencies to conduct investigations in a “legal way”
“Because our efforts are conducted in a methodical, technique based, and legally comprehensive manner, we direct the public to neither interfere by engaging in their own investigations, which could, potentially impede locating Miss Pantoja and any ensuing investigation that may follow,” Herman said. “Any interference…that may thwart efforts may result in…criminal charges. This is an ongoing investigation; it is paramount that we continue in our work, we have men and women out 24 hours a day…gathering evidence. We ask the public to be patient, to call in with any information that may lead to her whereabouts, and to avoid spreading unnecessary and untrue rumors.”
Pantoja is described as 5’4″ tall and weighs about 130 pounds. She has brown hair and a butterfly tattoo behind her ear and a snake with a rose tattoo on her arm. Anyone with information is asked to call MPD at 432-685-7108, a tip could be worth a $20,000 reward.