Early on Thursday morning, Sept. 22, Arelie Garcia left the Salinas apartment she shares with her mother, got into her red Honda and drove off. When she didn’t show up for work that day as a service adviser at MY Chevrolet in the Salinas auto mall, a coworker contacted one of her sisters, Elizet Mendoza, who filed a missing person report with the Salinas Police Department. Three months later, Garcia is still missing – she disappeared, seemingly without a trace.

Garcia is one of a staggering 14,328 open missing person cases in the U.S. An average of 664,776 missing person cases are reported each year. While most are solved quickly, some within hours, some go on – and on.

For Garcia’s family, the wait and the lack of answers has been excruciating, and frustrating. While the family quickly rallied to generate a huge lead immediately after Garcia’s disappearance, there’s little information in the months since.

Using Find My iPhone, her car was located in a pullout off Highway 1 in Big Sur. Her belongings – keys, phone, purse – were inside. “It’s not like her to be so adventurous to drive to Big Sur,” Mendoza says. “Normally she stays local.”

The Salinas Police Department, which is in charge of the case, teamed up with the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office for two searches of the area. Sheriff’s deputies brought dogs, drones and a helicopter. “We’ve done everything as far as boots-on-the-ground and up in the air, doing a search. Nothing has come from that,” says Salinas Police Cmdr. Brian Johnson. “We are not getting any indication of where she is.”

SPD obtained a search warrant to look at Garcia’s bank accounts and found no activity. Surveillance video shows no signs of duress. Garcia has no history of running away. There’s no sign of foul play, nor any sign of a voluntary disappearance.

The sisters – Elizet, 32; Veronica, 27; and Arelie, 25 – are close. They normally like to go to movies together, and shopping. At this time of year, it would be lots of Christmas shopping.

“Usually we get together at my mom’s, have Christmas dinner, open presents – with her not being here, it’s not going to be the same,” Veronica says.

Garcia is a car fan, a gym rat and a family person. I write about Garcia in the present tense, because her family feels certain she’s alive. Police, meanwhile, don’t have a theory as to whether Garcia is alive or dead, because they have no clues pointing them in any direction.

Garcia’s disappearance came just about a month after another young woman from Salinas, 20-year-old Kayeleigh Gammill, went missing in mid-August. Her remains were found in Big Sur, and the Sheriff’s Office is now investigating the case as a homicide.

“She was always willing to help out a friend in any way she could, mostly with her great advice,” according to an obituary. “She was wise beyond her years.”

Not every missing person case ends in loss. In Marina, Sandy Thi Huynh walked up to the police station on Dec. 15, 10 days after she was reported missing, to say she was fine.

In the absence of answers, Garcia’s family is organizing regular rallies in Salinas to keep Arelie’s name top-of-mind. They have raised about $5,400 of a $10,000 goal in a GoFundMe campaign; they are offering a cash reward for information, and may hire a private investigator to look for leads. They created a website, areliegarcia.com, with information and photos.

“They’re looking for closure,” Johnson says. “They’re frustrated, and we’re frustrated because normally by now we would have some indication of what happened.”

For Salinas police, Garcia is a big case. Yet nationwide, she is one of thousands of missing people. In national headlines, we hear about just a few – often white, blond-haired, young women. The disappearance of 22-year-old Gabby Petito in 2021 became a national story, and her remains were eventually discovered in Wyoming. The disappearance of Kristin Smart from the Cal Poly campus became a national story in 1996 and under persistent family pressure, a murder conviction was finally delivered in 2022.

Of course these women deserve attention, but so do Kayeleigh Gammill and Arelie Garcia and Sandy Huynh. Besides the Garcias, 14,327 other families await answers.

Sara Rubin loves long public meetings, red pens and reading (on newsprint). She has been editor of the Monterey County Weekly since 2016, and has been on staff since 2010.

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