Tragic story of Nicholas Plaza

South Texas Crime Stories: Missing boy never found

SAN ANTONIO – The story of a missing 5-year-old boy named Nicholas Plaza shocked San Antonio in 2001, as many hoped he would be found.

He was last seen alive Oct. 23, 2001, at his home on the far west side. He lived with his mother, Priscilla Ann Plaza, her boyfriend, Ruben Zavala Jr., and Zavala's mother, Celia Ramos.

An entire month went by before the boy was reported missing. 

According to court documents, the investigation into his disappearance revealed Nicholas Plaza was severely sick from being tortured and sexually abused for months.

Nicholas Plaza's mother and her boyfriend provided police with different stories of what happened.

Priscilla Ann Plaza told police her boyfriend would physically and sexually abuse Nicholas and not let her take him to the doctor. 

She also said that in October 2001, she had returned home to find Nicholas Plaza missing, and  Zavala told her Child Protection Services had picked him up, which was why she never reported the boy missing.

It was revealed in court document that Priscilla Ann Plaza's mom had contacted CPS in August 2001 due to concerns regarding how the boy was being cared for. 

CPS was unable to make contact with Priscilla Ann Plaza until November, when CPS officials asked her where Nicholas Plaza was. That was what led her to file a missing person's report.

Zavala later told police that he and Priscilla Ann Plaza were both to blame for Nicholas Plaza's death, and that he placed the boy's body in a garbage bin.

A search of the area around the garbage bin found nothing.

Priscilla Ann Plaza and Ruben Zavala Jr. Charged
Both Priscilla Ann Plaza and Zavala were ultimately arrested and charged despite Nicholas Plaza never being found.

Priscilla Ann Plaza was charged with injury to a child by omission and Zavala was first charged with injury to a child by omission and murder, but the murder charge was later dropped.

Priscilla Ann Plaza pleaded guilty and received a sentence of 20 years in prison. She also agreed to testify against Zavala. 

Zavala's trial took place in the summer of 2007, and more disturbing details were revealed. 

Priscilla Ann Plaza took the stand and said that Nicholas Plaza's health was declining and he couldn't walk anymore from injuries she said were inflicted by Zavala.

The trial ended with a guilty verdict, and Zavala was sentenced to 67 years in prison. 

A year later, Zavala appealed his conviction, but a judge upheld the court's judgement.

MEMORANDUM OPINION by Mary Claire Patton on Scribd

18 years later
The body of Nicholas Plaza was never found and he is still considered missing according to the  National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. 

Plaza would be 23-years-old if he is still alive. 

Below is an age progression photo of Plaza. 

About the Author

Erica Hernandez is an Emmy award-winning journalist with 15 years of experience in the broadcast news business. Erica has covered a wide array of stories all over Central and South Texas. She's currently the court reporter and cohost of the podcast Texas Crime Stories.

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