Still No Clues: Three year search continues for missing woman

A ripped poster asks the public for information about missing person Kimberly Avila Tuesday outside a storefront on Elizabeth Street.(Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

The family of Ramiro “Kimberly” Avila is not giving up the search for information surrounding the woman’s disappearance three years ago Wednesday.

Avila, a transgender woman, disappeared around 2:30 a.m. on May 13, 2017, from the downtown area in Brownsville. The family had been playing a game of Loteria together at home before Avila’s sister, Ivon Rodarte, dropped her off.

Rodarte said the family has been unable to go to the police station for updates on the case since COVID-19 hit the Rio Grande Valley and that the spread of the virus has also kept them from posting new flyers downtown, which were vandalized and torn down.

“We’re still looking and looking. As of right now, it’s frustrating and hard — more than before, because we can’t go there. The police say they’re still investigating, that the lead detective is working on the case 24/7 and that he’s very, very active. They can’t disclose any information,” Rodarte said.

“We’re praying for the best, but preparing ourselves for the worst because it has been a long time. The detectives are saying they want justice — that’s a huge difference from the beginning. Why? Those are questions they still haven’t been able to answer for us.”

In January the Valley Aids Council supplemented the $5,000 reward offered by the Brownsville Police Department and Crime Stoppers, doubling the amount intended for information leading to an arrest in the case to $10,000.

On Tuesday, Detective Melissa Gonzalez confirmed the department is still investigating the matter as a missing persons case and emphasized Avila has been a “priority since the beginning.”

“Kimberly went missing at 32 years of age. She would be 35 and this year would turn 36. We, as a department, have invested resources into this and continue to invest resources into the investigation. At this time, the Avila case is still being invested as a missing person case until something develops or determines otherwise.”

Gonzalez urged anyone with information as to Avila’s whereabouts to contact Brownsville Crime Stoppers at (956) 546-8477. All calls will remain anonymous.

Rodarte said support has picked up in recent months. A press release circulated by the Valley Aids Council late last month announced the nonprofit GENtex and the local transgender, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming community would launch a housing and support services program named Casa Kimberly, after Avila.

“Her family, our VAC family, and our Trans community still have Esperanza that we will find her,” VAC wrote. “This home brings that same Esperanza for our homeless Trans community to have a safe space to live.”

The program, originally scheduled to launch Wednesday, will provide housing and additional support services to members of the transgender community in the Rio Grande Valley. “It’s an honor for us, too because I think about my sister and it’s called that — Kimberly’s home,” Rodarte said of the project.

She described her sister’s vibrant, kind personality. “You could have met her today and instantly be attached and become her friend. She was very friendly — happy above all. She was always smiling. She loved to sing and dance — that was her thing. She was just pure. She would not mess with anybody.”

The family has questioned whether Avila’s gender or the fact she did sex work influenced the community’s initial response to her disappearance and the lack of information since. “We didn’t get the support we were hoping to get. We feel that’s because of her gender and because she was an adult. We would go and ask businesses to see if we could put up flyers to post that she’s missing and they would say no,” she said.

Rodarte and the rest of Avila’s loved ones are not giving up until they know what happened. “It has been hard. Not knowing is the worst thing that anybody can go through. You’re constantly thinking asking questions — what if she’s suffering? Is she cold? Is she hungry? Does she need our help?”

“We’re not going to stop at all. No matter what we have to do. If she got hurt, we’re going to get the justice she deserves” Rodarte said.

esheridan@brownsvilleherald.com