Going West: True Crime - Mercedes Vega // 394

Episode Date: April 3, 2024

In April of 2023, a 22-year-old woman was found dead in a burning vehicle in Arizona after being abducted from her apartment’s parking garage. As the gruesome details of her murder came to light, su...ch as bleach being found in her throat, her family desperately wondered, who was the depraved person behind her death? And why did they do this to her? This is the murder of Mercedes Vega. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices

Discussion (0)
Starting point is 00:00:00 What is going on true crime fans? I'm your host, T. And I'm your host, Daphne. And you're listening to Going West. Hello everybody. Today's case was recommended by multiple people and it's because this case is absolutely outrageous and it needs as much attention as humanly possible as you guys will very much see. So thank you to Kristen, Liliana, Elina, and Jessica for bringing this case to our attention.
Starting point is 00:00:42 Yes, thank you guys. And before we dive in, we just came out with a new bonus episode on Dennis Depew, who is known as the real Jeepers Creepers. Yeah, the movie was inspired by that case. And I know I said our last bonus episode was one of the craziest, but this one on Dennis Depew is fricking nuts and it's solved and it got solved
Starting point is 00:01:04 in the most mind-blowing way. It's like a book or a movie or something, which is probably why it inspired Jeepers Creepers. Yeah, so go check that out on patreon.com slash going west podcast or you can subscribe on Apple podcast. Alright guys, this is episode 394 of going west. so let's get into it. In April of 2023, a 22-year-old woman was found dead in a burning vehicle in Arizona after being abducted from her apartment's parking garage. As the gruesome details of her murder came to light, such as bleach being found in her throat, her family desperately wondered who was the depraved person or persons behind her death,
Starting point is 00:02:21 and why did they do this to her? This is the story of Mercedes Vega. I don't understand why smile would take her life. It just doesn't make any sense. These people actually tortured my daughter. Our dear friend Mercedes was a loving daughter, an amazing friend, and a confidant to many people. She did not deserve this at all. Mercedes Mariana Vega was born on March 10, 2001 in Anchorage, Alaska, but she didn't grow up there because when Mercedes was young, she and her mom Erica relocated to Gilbert,
Starting point is 00:03:22 Arizona, and her mom married a man named Tom Pillsbury. Erica and Tom blended their families, so Mercedes grew up alongside sisters Jessica, Alexis, Mackenzie and Shelby, and a brother named Finn. Though Tom wasn't her biological father, obviously, he loved her as if she was his own, and he even remembers having this conversation with her when she was a teenager about him wanting to, you know, be everything that a father is to her even if it meant holding her accountable for things sometimes. And Tom remembers fondly, quote, it took her less than 24 hours to come back to me and say I want you to be my
Starting point is 00:04:01 dad. According to those who knew and loved her, Mercedes was a spitfire from a young age. Tom affectionately recalls her stubbornness and tenacity, even as a little girl. And for example, when she was younger, she put together like this PowerPoint presentation about why the family should take a trip to Disney World. And then when she was a teenager,
Starting point is 00:04:23 she made another one about why she should be able to get a tattoo. Mercedes also seemed to thrive in the spotlight. She loved to sing and even sometimes performed at local sporting events and games. Tom said proudly, quote, She was probably seven or eight. We were in Hawaii and we were staying in a hotel that was right on the beach. And she wanted to sing karaoke. So after that first vacation with her family, Hawaii became a happy place for Mercedes. Her mom Erika wrote in her obituary that
Starting point is 00:05:06 Mercedes used to tell them quote, my soul belongs in Hawaii. I mean she absolutely thrived in the sunshine and also in the water and she just loved to swim and spot all the marine life that she could while she was in the sea. As a gentle soul with a passion for animals, she even had a horse in Arizona, but ultimately her friends remember her for her big heart. Erica wrote that she quote, always stood up for others and protected those who could not protect themselves. After wrapping up high school in the East Valley made up of the communities of East
Starting point is 00:05:40 Phoenix, Arizona, including Gilbert, Mercedes relocated about a half an hour away to Tempe, Arizona, and settled into her own apartment. She moved into a complex that is known as a luxury apartment community situated along the Salt River, just east of the Phoenix Airport and across the river from Arizona State University's campus. Mercedes' dream was to become a personal trainer, but while she saved up to obtain her certification, she danced two nights a week at a local club to sustain herself. Before her death, she wrote a list of goals for the coming year, the very first of which
Starting point is 00:06:19 was to go back to school for personal training. And Mercedes was an incredibly spiritual person, so shortly before her death she penned in her journal quote, I am divinely guided and divinely protected. The entirety of my existence is all for the highest good. I am allowing the universe to handle everything for me. I recognize the divine is orchestrating all that happens, even in my most tragic moments. On Sunday, April 16, 2023, 22-year-old Mercedes had plans to go out with some friends, and it's believed that they settled on meeting up at the arcade bar and restaurant franchise Dave and Buster's.
Starting point is 00:07:13 And I say believed because there wasn't any kind of confirmation of where she was going via text, which makes her family think that there was maybe a phone call to decide between sushi, Dave and Buster's, and hanging out at a friend's house. Based on the outfit she wore out that night, her mom feels confident that she was going to Dave and Buster's. Mercedes spent the first part of the evening getting ready in her apartment, sending her last text at 8.54 p.m. About 20 minutes later at 9.15 p.m. she was captured on
Starting point is 00:07:48 surveillance footage in her apartment's parking garage walking down the steps and turning the corner to get to her car so she could go meet her friends and if she was going to Dave and Buster's by the way they're open until 12 on Sunday so she had a least a couple hours of fun ahead of her. She was dressed in a black crop top, ripped jeans and white tennis shoes with a large purse hanging from her right arm. In the video, she was looking down at her phone when she passed through the view of the camera and she seemed to be in fine spirits.
Starting point is 00:08:20 She was just looking down at her phone while she walked. Her parents claim that they can tell that she didn't know what was coming based on her demeanor in the footage. Yeah, I mean, she's not, doesn't appear that she's really looking around or she's nervous about anything. She's just, you know, headed to her car. Yeah, she looks very casual, like nothing is wrong at all. So her father, Tom, remarked, quote, You can see when she comes out that she does not have a care in the world
Starting point is 00:08:48 She's not paying attention to her surroundings This is so hard for us to grasp because as you saw in the video She did not look like anything was going on because if she did she wouldn't be looking down She would have been paying attention to her surroundings And we will post this so you guys can see it is a very short clip. And that is all the security camera footage that has been released to the public. But after rounding the corner from the staircase in the parking lot, just seconds after she was pictured bouncing down the stairs and into the garage to go to her car, Mercedes was met with a brutal assault by an unknown assailant.
Starting point is 00:09:30 The first injury she sustained in the parking structure was blunt force trauma to the head, and she was hit so hard on the head that blood and brain matter were found on the cement floor of the parking garage. Her mom Erica remarked that upon visiting the apartment building after her daughter's murder, she could see the imprint of the soles of Mercedes tennis shoes in the blood spatters on the ground, and the blood remained there for three days before it was cleaned up. After being struck across the head, Mercedes was then put into a car and ushered out of the apartment's parking garage. Now, whether she was initially put
Starting point is 00:10:11 into her own car or someone else's is unknown, but Mercedes' car was driven out of the parking lot as well as we're going to get into here in a little bit. Jumping forward just three hours later, on the early morning of Monday, April 17, 2023, around 1230 AM, a 911 call was placed from a concerned motorist that a car had been set ablaze on the shoulder of the road. The car had been abandoned on Interstate 10 near mile marker 85 so 60 miles or 96 kilometers from Mercedes apartment in Tempe and we are gonna post a map on our socials as well so you can kind of see where this is but the car was found near Tonopah which is out in the desert about a 50 minute drive west of Phoenix
Starting point is 00:10:59 yeah it looked like somebody really just wanted to get her out of a populated area right because yeah this is this is very much in the desert. This is a long stretch of highway out there. Yeah. So when law enforcement had successfully extinguished this fire and began to survey the wreckage, they discovered human remains in the back seat of this car. The back of the car had been drenched in lighter fluid, and gloves and bleach were found in the front seat.
Starting point is 00:11:28 22-year-old Mercedes Vega was quickly identified as the deceased, as she had been required to give fingerprints to begin working her job as a dancer. Well later that morning, police reported to her parents' home, and to the absolute horror of Erica and Tom, they were informed that their daughter had been murdered. They absolutely reeled from this news, not understanding how a routine evening out could have taken such a sinister turn. But on top of the horrifying discovery, her parents couldn't believe how police were able to relay so little information about what had happened to her. They recalled that from the beginning they felt that they were not being given the full
Starting point is 00:12:14 story of Mercedes' murder, so they were just completely dumbfounded as to why police weren't giving them more information. Like they weren't allowed to see or identify her remains, nor were they given anything that was with her on the night that she was killed. Her father Tom remembers learning of the gruesome details of the discovery through a newspaper article printed weeks later, including details that he and his wife had not been made privy to. Though they were informed that an investigation was underway, they were given almost no developments from law enforcement.
Starting point is 00:12:50 So her family and friends were forced to grieve without any answers or closure while attempting to pick up the pieces of the sudden tragedy that made absolutely no sense to them. And they didn't receive the results of their daughter's autopsy until six months later Which seems insane to me like it couldn't have taken that long But when they did they were rightfully horrified Yeah, because in addition to having been struck in the head in the parking lot Mercedes had been shot in her upper right arm But most alarming was that she had ultimately died of smoke inhalation,
Starting point is 00:13:27 not any of the very serious injuries that she had sustained hours before her death. Because when her killer left her in the backseat of the car and lit it on fire, Mercedes burned alive. It's just so horrible to think about what Mercedes went through in the span of this like three hours. Yeah, and I hate to even like harp on this, but to think and to know that three hours before this or so, she was struck in the head so hard that there was brain matter on the ground of the parking garage, and she continued to live after that. Yeah, and we're gonna get into even more horrifying details right now. Well, and by the way, it's unknown if she was conscious or not during this time. Hopefully,
Starting point is 00:14:10 of course, she was not. But ultimately, her cause of death was not due to those horrific injuries that she received leading up to her discovery. She had been tortured, burned alive, and left for dead. tortured, burned alive, and left for dead. And there was bleach found in her throat, which seemed like it could have played a significant role in the motivation behind her killing. Like maybe she had shared information or reported something that she had seen at the club she danced at, and her death took place to kind of send a message or a warning
Starting point is 00:14:43 to, you know, others in a similar position, but that's all speculation. It does seem to me like this makes the most sense just due to how horrific her murder was. Like it was so personal. What was done to her as if someone wanted to punish her, but who and why? Yeah, this was an extremely violent act. And for what? Well, her toxicology report revealed that she had only caffeine and THC in her bloodstream at the time of her death, as again,
Starting point is 00:15:13 she was on her way out to the bar. So that gives us a little bit of insight. You know, we know that she wasn't drugged by her attacker. Right. So despite knowing this, after the horrifying revelations brought about by the autopsy, her loved ones clung to the hope that she had been unconscious for the worst of it. Tom said quote, this lets me sleep at night is that she was like sleeping and she didn't feel anything. But her parents also understand the hideous evil that she faced leading up to
Starting point is 00:15:46 her death and know that their beloved daughter absolutely suffered in fear. Erica stated later, quote, Why would you not just shoot her in the parking garage? She was tortured. Ultimately, there's no other way you can say this. Tom agreed, stating, quote, She was tortured tortured whether it's because she knew something or something along those lines or she was about to expose somebody I don't know what but these people actually tortured my daughter. I do believe that she was targeted because of the nature of the crime. As we said there was about a three-hour lapse between when Mercedes was abducted and when
Starting point is 00:16:27 the car she was left in was discovered aflame. Meaning, she was taken somewhere else and brutalized during this time and even possibly shifted between cars. So this was a whole ordeal that lasted three hours. Cause then you're wondering where was she shot? Did she, was she conscious to face her attacker? Did they say anything to her? Like what happened during that time? Yeah, and you know one of the other really strange things about this case is the inconsistency of the vehicle in which she was found in. Erica later told the press that she and her husband Tom were led to believe that Mercedes
Starting point is 00:17:06 had been found deceased in her own car, which was a white 2019 Dodge Charger, but the day after her murder, her parents received a call from police informing them that their daughter's car had been recovered from the parking lot of a nearby restaurant. Mercedes Charger was found parked illegally behind a restaurant called Culinary Dropout in Tempe, which obviously she did not put there herself. And that just makes us wonder why her car was moved at all, like the car had been left near Mill Avenue behind this restaurant. Now Culinary Dropout is just a 5 minute drive from Mercedes apartment building, so it was close, but still felt random and just very confusing.
Starting point is 00:17:48 So along with Mercedes being taken from the garage and then found in somebody else's vehicle, her car was also taken and abandoned, likely around the same time that she was killed. So whose car was she recovered in? And you'd think that person would want to put her in her own car and light it on fire So it couldn't be traced back to them somehow. Like that's what I was thinking. Why move? Why is her car being abandoned anywhere? Wait, well, I don't understand that at all. I why is there a need for two vehicles? Why was she why abandon her car and then burn her in a car that does not belong to her? Like whose car is that?
Starting point is 00:18:26 Well, you would be thinking that if they took her car that you know Maybe they wanted to sell it or they wanted to strip it for parts But but that oh yeah, but that didn't appear to be the case They just left it in a random parking lot and they took her in a different car and maybe this was you know some sort of Diversion because they felt like if they had taken her in a different car, and maybe this was some sort of diversion because they felt like if they had taken her in her own car, somebody might have spotted her car or her license plate or something. So that's kind of where what I'm thinking happened here.
Starting point is 00:18:55 Ugh, it's so frustrating. Well this question regarding why her car was abandoned opened up a slew of new questions for her family, none of which they seemed to have any answers to, even now almost a year later. So was there any evidence or DNA or otherwise found in either car? Was her car forensically processed before it was released to her family? It feels impossible that it was left there by Mercedes herself, obviously, because she suffered blunt force trauma to the head before she was even able to reach her car, so it seems likely
Starting point is 00:19:29 that someone else had been driving her car for whatever reason and may very well have left remnants of having done so. But what was most strange is that Mercedes had a very noticeable license plate. Vanity plates that read LUV or love 333, the threes signifying her angel number. Yet no one was captured on security camera footage anywhere around Tempe driving her car or even while parking it at the restaurant and her very memorable license plate number wasn't captured on cameras anywhere in the year of 2023? Well to her family's dismay, these questions would only persist and multiply. Let's talk a little bit about Mercedes apartment building.
Starting point is 00:20:39 So not wanting bad publicity to spread, her apartment complex posted a very vague and simple notice to its residents after this happened, which conveniently left out any of the details of what occurred inside their very building. It read, quote, Dear residents, I am writing to you to inform you that the Tempe police were at our property on April 18, 2023 conducting an investigation. We understand that this may cause some concern and we want to assure you that we are cooperating with the authorities to the fullest extent possible. However, due to the ongoing nature of the investigation, we are not able to share any details or information with you at this time.
Starting point is 00:21:23 We understand that this may be frustrating, but it is important that we respect the privacy and confidentiality of the investigation and those involved. We will continue to provide updates as soon as we are able to do so. In the meantime, we ask for your understanding and cooperation during this difficult time. If you have any concerns or questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to Tempe Police. We are here to support you, and we'll do everything in our power to ensure that you feel safe and secure in your homes.
Starting point is 00:21:56 Thank you for understanding. In a way, I get that they don't want to raise alarm bells. Obviously, if you say that somebody was abducted from your complex, people are going to freak out. But the problem was that people found out anyway, but they found out on the news. Yeah, so it kind of feels to me like this was a self-preservation move.
Starting point is 00:22:15 Like, if they had detailed this horrific crime that happened at their complex, that people wouldn't want to move there. Yeah, and we did say earlier, I don't know if you said it or I said it, but she lived in a luxury building, but this building looks super nice and recently renovated. It has multiple buildings and features a gigantic swimming pool, outdoor cabanas, a fitness center, a coffee bar, lounge, pool table, and more. It's like a resort.
Starting point is 00:22:45 Have you seen pictures? I have not seen pictures of the resort yet. I'm gonna post one. It's not a resort, but it's technically an apartment building, but yeah. From what I'm understanding, it looks like a resort. Okay, yeah, I'm just gonna show you. We'll post some pictures.
Starting point is 00:23:00 It's not really relevant, obviously, but I mean, it's super nice. Look at these, I mean, this pool is huge. Yeah, it's a very beautiful complex. I mean, it's super nice. Like, look at these. I mean, this pool is huge. Yeah, it's it's a very beautiful complex. I mean, it looks like a very you would imagine that this would be a very safe place to live. Right. I think that's why I'm mentioning it, because it's kind of shocking that this would happen.
Starting point is 00:23:16 But also because from their website says that it is a gated community. Now, from the street view and floor plans, it doesn't look completely gated. I mean anybody can drive in, but like drive into the parking lot, but the buildings and the parking garage are gated. And especially since it's so new, someone going to that specific property and presumably sneaking into the parking garage seems very intentional. Especially since Mercedes was so brutally attacked so quickly, you know, once she rounded that corner, it was as if someone was waiting for her to walk out.
Starting point is 00:23:52 So that's why I wanted to kind of talk about the building more, because it's surprising that this happened at all, and that's what makes it feel more like somebody was specifically targeting her because of how fast it happened and where it happened. So this kind of confirms that it wasn't a random attack like this seemed to be planned and also the fact that they took her car like they knew which car was hers yeah you know like it just very it very much felt like she was targeted specifically. I completely agree but after the
Starting point is 00:24:21 apartment building released this statement, many residents spoke out in the aftermath of the crime, just lamenting that they never even heard about the gruesome murder inside their own building, like I said, until they saw it on the news or on social media. Her family also notes that management continued to take down posters alerting residents of the crime and asking for information in Mercedes' case. Despite how nice and seemingly safe it was, many residents of the complex actually report high levels of criminal activity in the area and even in the building, but especially in the vicinity of Arizona State University, which is something the university apparently remains kind of hushed about so as not to deter enrollment.
Starting point is 00:25:06 Ah, self-preservation again. Yeah, once again. So without the assistance of her apartment building and with no information from local law enforcement, her family has been forced to take the investigation into their own hands. And I had read some other things, just different forums, that talked about Mercedes' case of people who lived there in the past or lived there when this happened of saying that they
Starting point is 00:25:29 had experienced things like somebody said their golf clubs were stolen, now their car in the parking garage once. Little things like that where a lot of people said that it wasn't the safest. But I think about how confident this person or these people were doing this. Like the apartment complex only has one garage and according to their floor plans, they have nearly 300 units. Now they do have a ton of parking spots around the building and they're outside in the parking lot.
Starting point is 00:26:01 But for this person or people to drive in knowing they're on camera, I just wonder if police got their plates, if they were maybe in a stolen car, you know, how much of her attacker was caught on camera. But for them to do this when any number of people could be nearby, you know, I mean, like I said, there's almost 300 units. Yeah, And somebody could easily have been in that parking garage that night and witnessed what these this person or these people were doing. Right. Well, one previous resident said this on Reddit, quote, The garage has two big entrances with a public facing road on one side and a parking lot where
Starting point is 00:26:42 people are always walking their dogs or coming home drunk on the other. It's not super busy, but this is still insane to me because it's not a particularly isolated area with the amount of residents coming in and out. Well her family have been canvassing the areas where her car was found and around her apartment building every single month since her death, passing out posters and flyers, spreading information, talking to locals and just asking questions.
Starting point is 00:27:13 Now when this failed to bring them any answers, they staged a peaceful protest and press conference at the Phoenix Police Headquarters, pleading with the public and with law enforcement to take this case more seriously. The family teamed up with Silent Witness, which is an anonymous tip-based organization headquartered in Phoenix that helps solve felony crimes and murders. There her friends and family took turns reading tearful statements to the public, to the police, and to Mercedes herself. As sobs broke out from all over the room, Mercedes friend Mackenzie read, quote, I know for a fact if this absolutely inhumane horrible crime were to happen to any one of her friends or family,
Starting point is 00:27:56 she would fight. Unfortunately, that has become the reality for myself, her friends, and family. So here again, here we are, fighting for her. Through tears she continued, quote, This isn't something your parents should ever go through, but I know that you have chosen me as one of the people to help comfort your parents, and I will do so for them and for you, most importantly. They say they gained other daughters out of your friends and I, but little did they know, they would gain a support system that they can depend on and
Starting point is 00:28:29 trust. I will fight for you, Mercedes Mariana Vega, until the wheels fall off. I will do whatever it takes. You didn't deserve this, and no one here deserves this. At the very least, you deserve your justice and we will get it if it's the last thing I do." The entire panel of her loved ones who spoke up for her that day maintained that they would not relinquish their efforts until justice had been served. Many of her friends took to posting on social media and there are Facebook and Instagram pages dedicated to her memory. And multiple friends have to posting on social media, and there are Facebook and Instagram pages dedicated to her memory.
Starting point is 00:29:07 And multiple friends have posted information on TikTok as well. And her Instagram account regularly posts updates and announces when new searches and events will take place, but sadly, the creation of this account opened up the opportunity for copycat and troll accounts. So basically her family made this post to specifically address this issue, clarifying that the handle at honoring Mercedes Vega would be the only account run by her loved ones. But multiple other accounts emerged in order to taunt her family by people who may have been involved in her murder or at least likely know who was involved.
Starting point is 00:29:46 This particular account wrote in their bio quote, don't forget to buy Mercedes death merchandise. In a comment, they added a disturbing and derogatory remark about Mercedes, but thankfully the account was taken down, though others continue to spring up in its place, which is just insane to me. Absolute pieces of shit. Yeah. Because law enforcement has stayed so silent on the details regarding Mercedes' case, the public has very few theories and leads to work off of.
Starting point is 00:30:18 Well-meaning members of the Phoenix area have flooded Mercedes' Memorial Facebook group, which is run by her parents, and asked clarifying questions, answers which Erica has admitted that she does not know and police refuse to share with her. One commenter wrote, quote, whose car was she found in? This seems so easily solvable. This doesn't make any sense, which we and Erica very much agree with. Yeah, it's crazy that these details are not being shared with anyone.
Starting point is 00:30:46 Well, and I think particularly the surveillance footage, right? Because somebody in her circle could recognize the car, or if the attacker is spotted even in a small way. Like, somebody in her family or her friend group could know who this person or people are. And I get it. I totally understand that you don't want to compromise an investigation. But it's been a year later, and there's been no answers to any of the questions. I think it's time to be a little bit more transparent here, with details and information,
Starting point is 00:31:19 so that possibly, like you said, somebody could help, somebody could recognize the car or the attackers or something. Yeah, it's so hard to because nobody else has seen this footage. We don't even know what it does and doesn't show. So it's very frustrating for them. But the police feel confident that this was not motivated by robbery because the attackers didn't take anything and, you know, she still had her keys with her, and her apartment was undisturbed.
Starting point is 00:31:46 And then, of course, Heath, like you mentioned before, instead of stealing her car or selling it off for parts, it was abandoned. Yeah, it was just left there. So the motive seems to be purely spite or revenge, and perhaps to teach a lesson to anybody else who knew the circumstances if that is the direction this is going. Well, in terms of who could have committed such a violent act against Mercedes, her parents just really aren't sure. They do, however, acknowledge the close relationship that she enjoyed with both of them, and maintain that if she felt that she were in trouble or if she were scared for her life, she would have told them what was going on and who was responsible for making her feel this way, which makes them believe even more that she was not expecting what happened to her that day.
Starting point is 00:32:34 They claim that they would see her at least twice a month and that she would call them pretty often to catch up and ask for help or advice. Tom fondly remembers running to her apartment to put air in her tires or to bring her over medicine when she was feeling sick. So they just can't understand why she would have kept a threatening person in her life secret from them, which is why they don't think that she did. And though this has not been confirmed by law enforcement or by anybody else, both of her parents believe that the murder was committed by more than one person. Basically, they hypothesized that it was at least three people, and likely either motivated by jealousy or revenge.
Starting point is 00:33:12 Which I feel makes sense. Someone attacked her, someone was driving the car, and then someone disposed of Mercedes' car, and one of them would have needed to get them a ride out of the desert when they left Mercedes for dead. This is definitely not a one-person job in my opinion. Yeah, definitely not. I totally agree with you on this. And some have surmised that maybe the conflict involved another woman or a couple in a relationship who teamed up against Mercedes.
Starting point is 00:33:40 But what was done to her just feels so harsh and beyond aggressive and cruel. Like it's really hard to believe that anything that Mercedes could have done would have warranted such a violent attack like this. Though police have been frustratingly quiet on the details to both Mercedes' family and the public, the most sensible argument seems to be that Mercedes came into contact with somebody at work who became angry with her and used her murder as revenge, and possibly even to send a signal to others in her position, as we mentioned earlier. And this could be another justification for the bleach that was found in her throat. A message to others that Mercedes spoke up when she shouldn't have, or possibly was
Starting point is 00:34:21 going to speak up. I mean, was she a whistleblower on something? Had she seen or heard something at the club in which she worked and spoken up about it or was going to? But also, some people think that the bleach may have been there to cover up male DNA. Though they hate to entertain the grotesque possibility of this, her mother Erika stated, quote, I believe someone was forcing her or trying to force her to do something and she said no. I know that she died fighting. Aside from having to seek out the autopsy report on their own,
Starting point is 00:34:55 her parents have learned much of what they know from social media and the news just like everybody else. They have never seen any of the footage from the parking garage that was withheld of Mercedes actually being attacked and can only go off of the small clip that the public has. They also have never seen the official police report regarding Mercedes' case, which is typical for unsolved cases, but since police aren't looping them in at all, they want as much information as possible so they can spearhead justice themselves. Coming to terms with moving forward without Mercedes seems to be the most difficult part
Starting point is 00:35:33 for her family because all they can think about is what a warm and loving mother she would be one day and how badly she wanted to experience that. Being deprived of watching her accomplish this is yet another layer of grief. Her father, Tom, said, quote, I'm not gonna get to see her get married. I'm not gonna hold my grandchildren. And it hurts to know that.
Starting point is 00:35:56 It hurts to know what my family is going through. And I don't want any other family to go through this. So I do want someone to come forward. We need to put this to rest." On the six-month anniversary of her murder, her family and friends gathered for a balloon release, a candle lighting and picnic, and many of her friends delivered speeches about the depth of the legacy that she left behind.
Starting point is 00:36:22 Everyone who came to show their support had kind words and warm memories to share about Mercedes Vega. Her family also plans to host a gathering on the anniversary of her death, which is coming up on April 17th. Erica said sadly, quote, "'I miss her so much.
Starting point is 00:36:40 "'She was so bright. "'She was such a beautiful, sweet, kind soul. She didn't deserve this. She didn't deserve what happened to her. It just doesn't seem real that she's gone. She was mine, and the person that did this had no right to take her away. The family still has an open GoFundMe to aid in the search efforts, so if you do want to donate, go check that out, we're going to post it on our socials as well. And this is to encourage the public to come forward with a larger reward fund.
Starting point is 00:37:13 Erica wrote the description for the page which reads, quote, We want to increase motivation to find Mercedes Killer by raising additional funds to this amount. No questions, no prosecution. If you're afraid to tell what you know, you do not need to be identified. The money can even be put on a debit card that you can buy at Fry's, Walmart, etc. We want our daughter's killer or killers to face justice. We don't want this to ever happen to anyone else's child. If you can't afford to donate, please share.
Starting point is 00:37:46 And that's one thing I'm going to say right now. Please, please share today's episode or just share Mercedes story. And also if you can go donate to the GoFundMe. Erica has been widely praised for using her daughter's tragedy to prevent this from happening to another young woman in the area and has somehow maintained her grace and empathy in the face of unimaginable tragedy. Just a month before her murder, Mercedes went back to her favorite place in the world, Hawaii, with some friends to celebrate her 22nd birthday. In an eerily prescient remark, Mercedes told her mom upon her return that after her death, she wanted to be cremated and spread on the shores of Hawaii.
Starting point is 00:38:31 Erika recalled through tears, quote, "'When she came back, she said, "'Mom, I want my kids to cremate me "'and spread my ashes in Hawaii "'because that's where my soul belongs.'" This year, they plan to bring Mercedes' ashes to Hawaii themselves to spread them just like she wanted.
Starting point is 00:38:49 Her parents find themselves in agony over the lack of justice, and her father Tom said at her press conference, quote, It's eating us alive every single day because these persons are walking around and nobody is being held accountable. My daughter mattered." Erica added, quote, I love you. I will never stop. Never stop fighting.
Starting point is 00:39:14 If you have any information about the murder of Mercedes Vega, please call Silent Witness at 480-948-6377. Thank you so much everybody for listening to this episode of Going West. I know some of you guys hate when I repeat this, but yes, thank you guys so much for listening to this episode. As I said before, share it, share Mercedes' story, go check out the GoFundMe. We're going to post it on our socials. And also if you want to see photos and also that little video clip of Mercedes walking
Starting point is 00:40:03 to the parking garage, go check it out on our socials. We're on Instagram at Going West podcast. We also are on Facebook. We have a regular page. It's just called Going West True Crime. And then we have a discussion group where we can talk about this case. Yes, check it out.
Starting point is 00:40:16 And like Heath said, please share. I mean, this only happened just under a year ago. Her family is really hoping for answers as quickly as possible. It really does seem so solvable. It does. And she, I mean, she endured so much. Her family deserves to put this to rest,
Starting point is 00:40:33 and put Mercedes properly to rest. So thank you to everybody again who recommended this case, and to everybody who listened to her story today. All right, guys. So for everybody out there in the world, don't be a stranger. When Cynthia came to TurboTax, she had just launched her new side gig, a true crime podcast. I'm a first-rate detective with a golden voice. As her TurboTax expert, I made her second income count by guaranteeing 100% accurate
Starting point is 00:41:38 filing and her maximum refund. What did she do with that refund? Find out next week. Switch to Intuit TurboTax and make your moves count. See guarantee details at TurboTax.com slash guarantees. Experts only available with TurboTax Live.

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