The unsolved case of 12-year-old Rosa Sandoval: South Texas Crime Stories

“She just disappeared, vanished from the face of the earth,” said reporter Jessie Degollado

In 2004, 12-year-old Rosa Sandoval disappeared without a trace. Seven months later, her body was found in Bexar County.

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A 12-year-old girl disappears without a trace in 2004. Some at first thought Rosa Sandoval was taken while walking to school but later police began questioning her family.

“It’s been mind-boggling to think why so long and still nothing,” said KSAT 12 veteran reporter Jessie Degollado.

May 28th, 2004

Rosa Sandoval, her three siblings and parents lived in a home two blocks from Sky Harbour Elementary School on the Southwest Side.

The family had been living in San Antonio for several years after moving from Mexico.

In the spring of 2004, the school year was coming to an end. In fact, it was the last day of school when everything would change for the Sandoval family.

On May 28, Rosa walked to school but she left early and didn’t tell anybody she was leaving. It was something her family said was unusual.

Since it was her last day they thought she was excited because her backpack and a three-liter bottle of soda — that she was supposed to take to school that day — were gone.

The school later called the Sandoval family and said Rosa never made it to school.

The family panicked and called the police, a missing person report was filed.

A search immediately began but there was no sign of Rosa.

The FBI was called in to help investigate and the story of the missing 12-year-old girl became national news.

The investigation

As the search continued about 60 people were interviewed, including family, school teachers, counselors and neighbors.

Through the course of the investigation, the media soon found out police were starting to look more closely at Rosa’s family and that maybe they knew more than what they were letting on.

Months after her disappearance, it was reported that Gabby, Rosa’s 17-year-old sister who she shared a room with, had later told police that she and Rosa had an argument the night before the 28 and that Rosa walked out that night.

Gabby went on to say she never saw Rosa again after that and she wasn’t at home the next morning.

With the family’s permission, police searched the family home and vehicle.

In a KSAT 12 report in July 2004, police said evidence technicians found what appeared to be blood stains and bloodied handprints on the wall of her room.

Sgt. Gabe Trevino of the San Antonio Police Department at the time said luminol was used in a particular place inside of the home. Luminol is a chemical that forensic investigators use to find traces of blood.

Traces were apparently found in an adjacent bedroom belonging to Rosa’s brother.

KSAT 12 reporter Jessie Degollado covered the case extensively and spoke with Rosa’s family before they stopped doing interviews.

The results of the luminol tests were never released. In fact, questions were raised about how the chemical test was administered.

But SAPD said proper procedures were followed.

“Yes, I did speak to (the family). It was often brief, but they were so overwrought. Certainly the disappearance of their daughter under very mysterious circumstances,” Degollado said. “And then all the speculation that surrounded them. The glaring spotlight not only of attention and grief and feeling sorry for them, mixed in with some very ugly speculation about her mother, her father, her sister, and her brother. So that really took its toll. They pretty much haven’t been willing to speak publicly since then that I know of.”

‘How is it possible they didn’t find anybody?’

Everything would change in the investigation in December of 2004, seven months after Rosa disappeared.

A human skull was found off the side of the ride in the 11700 block of Kearney Road on the Southwest Side.

A further search of the area would find other bones nearby in a brushy area.

The clothes found at the scene matched those she was last seen wearing when she was last seen on May 27, the night her sister said she left after their argument.

The remains were later identified as Rosa.

The following year in 2005, “America’s Most Wanted” aired an episode about Rosa’s disappearance and death.

According to that episode, a picture of Rosa was discovered inside a 1983 blue Oldsmobile, a vehicle that was apparently found in a junkyard but there was no word who owned that vehicle.

“How is it possible they didn’t find anybody? Did they not have someone in mind? Because I think initially it was reported nationally that there was a person of interest but then nothing,” Degollado said.

SAPD to BCSO

To this day, Rosa’s cause of death was never released and it’s unclear if there was ever a person of interest in the case that still remains unsolved.

“It’s been mind-boggling to think why so long and still nothing,” Degollado said.

Because of where Rosa’s body was found, the case was transferred from SAPD to BCSO’s jurisdiction.

“Not a whole lot of people that are willing to talk to us in detail about it,” Sheriff Javier Salazar said. “Certainly we would love the opportunity to talk to these family members again if they are so inclined. And maybe the guilt has taken the place of that motive to protect somebody.”

17 years later

It has been 17 years since Rosa disappeared, there have been multiple theories about what happened including that a stranger was involved.

“I spoke to a retired detective who took the case for Bexar County early on and she seems to think it was because it was a stranger who took her. Maybe. And making it even hard to find that stranger whoever or wherever that person is. So that brings up another worry. What if they do it again?” Degollado said.

The case struck a chord with people across San Antonio and had a profound impact on Degollado.

“I think because her parents were Mexican immigrants, had settled in San Antonio, started a new life for themselves here, pretty much on the surface living the American Dream. And yet it took this very ugly violent turn. How was that possible?” Degollado said.

If you have any information on Rosa’s case, you can call Crime Stoppers at (210) 224-STOP. There is up to a $5,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest.

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About the Authors:

Erica Hernandez is an Emmy award-winning journalist with15 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 South Texas Crime Stories.

Leigh Waldman is a news reporter at KSAT 12. She joined the station in 2021. Leigh comes to San Antonio from the Midwest after spending time at a station in Omaha, NE. After two winters there, she knew it was time to come home to Texas. When Leigh is not at work, she enjoys eating, playing with her dogs and spending time with family.