When Maribel Victoria Gonzales’ body was found in the desert northwest of Tucson, it was the second tragedy to strike her family this year.
Thirteen-year-old Maribel was found June 6 near North Trico and West Avra Valley roads when deputies responded to a suspicious activity call. Her death is classified by investigators as suspicious as they await autopsy results.
On New Year’s morning, Maribel’s mother was critically injured in a deliberate hit and run that killed two people, including her boyfriend. The incident happened after the woman’s boyfriend, Patrick Balbastro, stopped to help a woman who was being assaulted by a man in a south-side neighborhood, police said.
According to police the assailant, Michael Leday, jumped into Balbastro’s car and deliberately ran over him and the two women. Maribel’s mother is still recovering from her injuries suffered in that attack.
Now, less than six months after that incident, the family is going through another ordeal.
On Monday, Abrian Gonzales asked the public for help in trying to find out what happened to his daughter.
“I don’t think she had any enemies. She accepted everybody. She had a big heart, and was a comedian,” said Gonzales.
He said his daughter was young and believed she was invincible, even though he would warn her to be careful and that she could not trust everyone.
Maribel, who would have turned 14 next week, was last seen June 3 at about 8 p.m. when she told her mother she was going to a friend’s house, said Gonzales, 47, at a conference room of the group Homicide Survivors. Maribel was being cared for by her grandmother and aunt, because of her mother’s severe injuries.
Maribel’s mother did not hear from her daughter the following day, which was unusual, explained Gonzales. His ex-wife began calling her daughter and received no answer. She called the friend who said Maribel never arrived at her home.
Maribel was reported missing to the Tucson Police Department on June 4, and the department classified her as a runaway, said her father.
Pima County sheriff deputies found her body shortly before 1 p.m. June 6. The body, which was in stages of decomposition, was found on the east side of Trico Road, about a half-mile south of Avra Valley Road.
Chief Deputy Chris Nanos said Friday in a news release that the body was identified as Maribel’s.
Gonzales’ cause of death is still pending and the medical examiner is still waiting for the results from tests including a toxicology report.
Pima County Medical Examiner Dr. Greg Hess said it took weeks to definitively identify Gonzales when results from a DNA test were returned.
“We had a circumstantial ID based on the tattoo that I think was released to the media,” Hess said. “They were waiting for the DNA test to make sure.”
The sheriff’s department is calling her death “suspicious” until the manner of death is determined. Homicide detectives are investigating the case.
When asked if Maribel had any obvious signs of trauma, Deputy Courtney Rodriguez, a sheriff’s spokeswoman, said there was nothing that indicated what happened to her. “There was nothing obvious that stuck out when people found her,” she said.
Gonzales, who lives in Safford and is employed under contract as a carpenter and concrete worker at the Morenci mine, said his daughter attended a charter school in Tucson. Gonzales said Maribel was an average student who had trouble in math, and went to tutoring.
Gonzales said his daughter just passed to the eighth grade, and liked soccer and softball. She dreamed about becoming a race-car driver. “I just saw her the weekend before she went missing. She stayed in contact with me, and after Tuesday (the day she was last seen by family) I did not hear anything from her,” said her father.
Through her Facebook postings, many of Maribel’s interests were no different than most other teens. She posted about Air Jordan sneakers, her dog, hip-hop music, said she loved playing sports and frequently posted selfies. Her page is also filled with posts, some profanity-laden, about smoking marijuana, working and getting tattoos.
Gonzales said he hadn’t heard anything about his daughter getting into trouble, but that he’s learned some things about Maribel recently that he didn’t know about her. He didn’t elaborate.
“I went to work out of town so I could provide better for my family,” said Gonzales, adding that he tried to see his daughter as much as possible.
He said she was looking forward to working in a hair salon this summer in Safford, a job Gonzales said he helped get for his daughter. She was excited about earning her own money.
He added that his daughter got a butterfly tattoo under her left collar bone without his or his ex-wife’s permission.
When the sheriff’s department released a photo of the tattoo June 11 asking the public for help in identifying the body, Gonzales figured it was his daughter.
Gonzales said his faith in God is helping him get through this difficult time.
He asked that anyone who may have seen anything suspicious or knows anything about what may have happened to his daughter to come forward and talk to authorities.
Anyone with information is asked to call 911 or 88-CRIME (882-7463).