Missing Marizela: Ten Years
March 5, 2011. I remember the moment like it was yesterday when my family contacted me in a panic to let me know that my 18-year-old cousin and goddaughter, Marizela "EmEm" Perez, had gone missing.
It's the text you get in the middle of the night that doesn't seem real. Ten years ago this week, EmEm vanished from the University of Washington campus in the middle of a sunny afternoon. She was last seen walking away from a Safeway grocery store in the U District and into the dread void of uncertainty. Once again, as I have done faithfully and heartachingly for the last decade, I must report that there is still no news on her whereabouts. Nothing. In 2019, I finally received some Seattle Police Department documents in response to a public records request about her case. But nothing in the trove shed light on any potential investigative leads.
In my home office, I keep a bulging file called "Find Marizela." There are handwritten notes of conversations with police, carefully constructed timelines, social media archives and holiday photos gathered around the piano singing Christmas hymns and carols. There's also a stack of missing person flyers emblazoned with the headline, "HAVE YOU SEEN ME?" illustrated with screenshots from the Safeway surveillance video. Pale and fleeting, EmEm looks like a ghost--drained of the beautiful, bubbly energy she embodied as a child who loved baking cookies and playing board games with me.
The description on the flyer reads:
"Asian female, 5'5" tall, 110 lbs, skinny build, asymmetrical bob with short bangs and brown/red highlights hairstyle, tattoo on left inner arm with the words 'lahat ay magiging maayos' (all will be well), last seen wearing a dark jacket with hood over a light color sweater with hood, denim jeans, light brown suede laced boots, possibly wearing green eye contacts, carrying a denim drawstring backpack with rainbow butterfly screenprint, with a Macbook Pro laptop."
The first weeks after she disappeared are now mostly a blur, but a few memories are indelible. I remember breaking down while a teenage girl sang "If I Die Young" by The Band Perry at my then-7-year-old son's talent show on the night before I flew out to Seattle to be with Marizela's parents:
If I die young, bury me in satin
Lay me down on a bed of roses