Ranchers discovered the body of 52-year-old Martha Gutierrez Thursday morning in the rolling hills of San Benito County, about 50 feet off the side of Highway 156 near Highway 152, according to Jaime Rios of the California Highway Patrol.
She suffered a gunshot wound to the head, according to someone close to the investigation who was at the crime scene Thursday.
The discovery of Martha’s body came eight days after she was declared missing, when police suspected she was shot and killed by her son Abel Gutierrez. Police believe that Abel, a 27-year-old Iraq war veteran who was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, shot and killed Martha in his car then dumped her body.
On Wednesday, Abel shot and killed his 11-year-old sister Lucero Luna and then turned the gun on himself at the Redwood Apartment complex near Mantelli Drive in Gilroy where the family lived, according to police. Police are still unsure of the sequence of the murders, and have launched an investigation to uncover a timeline of events, Gilroy Police Sgt. Chad Gallacinao said.
Crime scene investigators, California Highway Patrol and dozens of local police – including the San Benito County Sheriff’s Office whose jurisdiction the body is within – responded to the scene, which is directly across the street from the Cedar House Restaurant and Bakery.
Authorities taped off the area near a cluster of mailboxes in a rural area at the base of a hill, visible through a short wire fence from the other side of the two-lane highway. Rios said the ranchers discovered the body when they came to spray for weeds at 9:40 a.m. and called 911. CHP responded to the call and confirmed it was a dead woman.
Martha’s family arrived at the crime scene around 11:40 a.m. Martha’s niece, 20-year-old Gilroyan Kristell Gutierrez, said the family is relieved they found the body.
“Abel should have gotten more help. Cops have been coming to the house so many times. They would stay 10 to 15 minutes and they would just leave,” she said, emotional yet composed.
Gallacinao, who was at the scene, said GPD only responded to the home on Kern Avenue on one occasion, Feb. 29. He said they contacted Community Veterans Project in Palo Alto, who then contacted Veterans Affairs. The interaction with police ended there, Gallacinao said, “they at least mailed him something,” he said.
Gilroy police announced Sunday that they had exhausted all leads in finding Martha’s body and suspended the search on the west side near their home.
Gallacinao said that police searched for Martha Wednesday with three dogs trained to find dead bodies, in the area of Highway 156 in San Benito County, the general area where her body was discovered Thursday morning. But they found nothing. Gallacinao said that Martha’s cell phone records led them to believe her body may have been in San Benito County.
Crime scene investigators arrived around 12:30 p.m. and police were overheard telling locals who live near the area to “come back in five hours” while the investigation continues.
Martha’s brother, Faustino Gutierrez, 46, said it’s an answer to his prayers that Martha’s body was found.
Faustino said he is not only grieving the loss of his niece Lucero and his sister Martha, but Abel (who family called “Hector”).
“Hector was a victim in this, too,” Faustino said through his daughter who translated from Spanish to English, referring to how his service in Iraq changed him.
Abel graduated from Gilroy High School with good grades in the early 2000s, according to Kristell and Faustino. After graduating, Abel worked at Nob Hill Foods on First Street in Gilroy, stocking the shelves and helping people with groceries to their cars.
Gilroy’s Nob Hill director and Abel’s former boss, Vito Mercado, said Abel worked for him for about two years, beginning in 2002.
“He was a quiet, hard-working kid. I never had an issue with him,” Mercado said.
He never had many friends, but enjoyed working many hours, they said. Then, in 2008, he joined the Army because “he wanted to be someone in life,” Kristell said.
He trained in Tacoma, Washington for one year, and then spent four years on the frontline in Iraq, Faustino said. While in Iraq, he wrote to Martha often.
One month ago, Abel moved into the Redwood Apartments with Faustino, Martha and Lucero while on furlough from the Army. He was on medication for post traumatic stress disorder, though the family was not sure what type of medicine he was using – and was planning on serving another tour in Iraq after being evaluated.
Faustino said he is thankful for the support of people in Gilroy, especially the children of Redwood Apartments who have raised more than $6,000 by standing on corners and in front of grocery stores, asking for donations for Lucero’s funeral expenses.
At this time, where and when the funeral for the family members is unknown.
The news that Martha’s body had been located came at the end of a scheduled press conference around 10:30 a.m. Thursday for the missing teen Sierra LaMar in Morgan Hill when Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith announced that a body has been found near Highway 152 (Pacheco Pass) and Highway 156.
Smith said the news came just then and she asked that TV news present at the conference turn off their cameras.
Smith said they did not find the body looking for 15-year-old Sierra, who has been missing since last Friday. The searches were unrelated.
On Thursday night, family and friends gathered at the Redwood Apartments to mourn, and sing songs for Martha. Amidst tears, loved ones said that they found peace that Martha’s body was finally discovered.
Martha’s friend Karina Rubio, 36, said for the last week she would see a car like Martha’s and wonder if it was her.
“It kept killing me,” Rubio said. “But now I’ve found a little bit of relief that the three of them (Martha, Abel and Lucero) are home.”
Rubio, who said she brought pink roses to honor Martha, buried her head into her friend’s shoulder and cried.
Another friend of Martha’s, Blanca Amezquita, who declined to give her age, said that she can finally rest now that Martha has been found. Amezquita said she searched for Martha every day. Sometimes she searched with a group of 50. Other times she searched with just one or two other women.
“Like I said that first day, I’m not going to stop until we find her. Now they’ve found her, and we know she’s with her children now, and she’s happy. They go together.”
Patty Pena, 39, who was also involved in the search for Martha, said that finding Martha’s body, as devastating as it was, will bring closure to the Gutierrez family.
“Now the healing process can begin,” Pena said.