Searching for answers

  • Staff
  • Apr 10, 2010

For nearly 22 years, family, friends and the community have wondered what happened to Tara Calico. Her disappearance in September 1988 has now led one of her former classmates to look into the case and produce a documentary about the teenager who went missing during her daily bike ride on N.M. 47 south of Rio Communities.

Melinda Esquibel, owner of Mundo Maravilla Productions, first met Calico in junior high school. Both girls were in band, and Esquibel was quickly taken aback by the girl who she says looked after her during a band trip to Arizona.

"I was alone during the trip, and I remember she took me under her wing," Esquibel said of Calico, who was a year ahead of her in school. "I thought it was so nice of her. After that, we became better friends."

Tara Leigh Calico was 19-years old when she disappeared. She was a sophomore at UNM-VC, worked at a local bank and had plans to become a psychologist.

Calico left her Rio Communities house at about 9:30 a.m. to go on her regularly scheduled bike ride. She took her mother's pink Huffy bicycle because her bike had developed a flat a day or two before. When she failed to return home, her mother, Patty, went out looking for her, thinking that she would find her walking home with a disabled bike.

Patty, who died in May 2006, never found her daughter — no one has.

Esquibel, who lives and works in Los Angeles, says she had always wondered what happened to her friend, but when she read an article about the 20-year anniversary of Calico's disappearance, she decided to ask questions and make the documentary, which she's titled "Tara Calico: Gone Without a Trace."

"I read the article, and it was the first time I had ever heard that they (the police) knew what happened to Tara," she said. "I came to New Mexico on a visit, and I was talking to a friend about what happened. My friend said, 'The whole town knows what happened to her.'"

Esquibel said the more people she talked to, the more she heard the same story over and over again. It was at that point that she realized that the whole situation was unjust, and she wanted to do something — anything really that could possibly make a difference.

"People are still very emotional and sensitive about this, I didn't want to be disrespectful to her family, and I wanted to make sure that it was welcomed," Esquibel said. "It wasn't until a year later that I decided to do it — after I got permission from her stepfather, John Doel."

The main purpose of the documentary, Esquibel said, is to bring awareness of who Tara was to the world and, hopefully, to find some answers. For the past few months, Esquibel has interviewed several people, including newspaper reporters and police investigators.

"I'm hoping in the process of releasing this documentary, it will spark enough emotion in the people who still know where her body is buried to come forward so we can locate her and put her to rest," Esquibel said. "I think it's important to share Tara's story because she's touched so many people all over the world."

When she started filming the documentary earlier this year, Esquibel also created a Web site,, and a Facebook fan page, Tara Calico: Gone Without a Trace, which has more than 600 fans.

During her research and talking with friends, Esquibel has obtained lost footage of Calico during the Junior Miss competition at Belen High School. Parts of the video and still photographs have been posted on both sites.

While Esquibel continues to research the case and film the documentary, she's also been able to contact several of her friends from high school.

Some are willing to talk, but others won't.

"I think some of the reasons are because people don't like to be in front of the cameras and a lot of them are shy," she said. "Also, I think it's because they live in this town and it could negatively affect them. I just want them to know that it's been more than 20 years, and we can't tell a story if they don't help us tell that story.

"I know what an incredible person she was, but they know details about her that others wouldn't know and they need to share that because so many people want to know."

Valencia County Sheriff Rene Rivera is one of those who has been interviewed for the documentary, and he says he hopes that it will help with the investigation.

"I think it will be able to touch more people outside Valencia County, and even New Mexico," said Rivera, who has been working on the case since 1996. "I'm hoping that someone may see this and have the information we need."

Rivera said local and federal investigators believe they know what happened to Tara that fateful day, but haven't had the evidence to prosecute the case. The sheriff said while he has enough evidence for an arrest warrant, he doesn't have enough to prosecute the case.

"I believe I know who did this," he said," but without that evidence — the bike or her body — we won't be able to prosecute," he said.

Rivera says while others have tried to investigate the Calico case on their own, he's willing to work with anyone to finally solve the case.

"I'm willing to do anything to try to get the evidence to prosecute," Rivera said. "And if that means working with anyone who's doing a documentary, or who has an interest in the case, I welcome them."

Both of Tara's parents have passed away, but her stepfather and siblings still want and need answers, Esquibel said.

"This community changed the day she disappeared, and everyone wants to know who took her and what happened that day," she said. "Her family has a right to mourn, and we all need closure."

Esquibel said she will be "shopping the documentary around" at several film festivals, and has received interest from at least one news organization.

Anyone who might have information about the case or who knew Tara and would like to participate in the documentary can call Melinda Esquibel at (505) 400-7927.

Contact Clara Garcia