The body of missing eight-year-old Gabriel Cruz Ramírez has been found and his father’s girlfriend arrested in a shocking dénouement to a two-week search that has had the whole of Spain crossing its fingers for the little boy’s safe return.
Gabriel had left his grandmother’s house in the rural Las Hortichuelas area of Níjar (Almería province) where he spent his weekends and holidays, heading for a neighbour’s house to play with friends, at around 15.30 on Tuesday, February 27, but never arrived – despite the area being very safe for children to gather without adult company and the child knowing his way around very well.
Although their suspicions have been kept under wraps until now, police have had their eye on 35-year-old Ana Julia Quezada for several days, especially after a vest worn by the missing boy was found near the sewage plant in Las Negras, barely four kilometres from where he disappeared.
The vest was found by Ana Julia, who had joined the search along with Gabriel’s father Ángel Cruz, his mother Patricia Ramírez and hundreds of other volunteers, plus the Guardia Civil complete with drones, helicopters, police horses and sniffer dogs.
Officers say it seemed strange that the vest had not suffered any apparent wear and tear, despite torrential rain and wind in the area in the preceding few days, and that it had appeared in an area they had already searched thoroughly.
They filmed Ana Julia removing a large bundle from a well nearby, on a piece of land owned by the child’s father’s family, loading it into the boot of a grey car and covering it with blankets.
Following her to a block of flats in the village of Vícar, 80 kilometres away, they watched her drive into the communal underground car park and surrounded her.
A Guardia Civil officer opened the boot and said to his colleagues: “Affirmative.”
Ana Julia was handcuffed, and the police officers on the scene immediately burst into tears, having to comfort each other on the spot.
At first, the arrested woman shouted, so that the neighbours could hear: “It wasn’t me! I only got the car today!” Then, eventually, she broke down and announced: “I’m sorry, I love you, I did it.”
The motive for killing Gabriel, and the method, have not as yet been revealed.
In fact, Ana Julia appeared on a TVE interview a few days ago, as did Gabriel’s parents, and explained calmly that she had always told the child that if he was approached by a stranger, he should scream as loudly as he could.
Ana Julia Quezada, originally from the Dominican Republic, moved to the Níjar area in 2014 with her then-boyfriend, a man from Burgos in the centre-northern region of Castilla y León.
They had fallen in love with the province of Almería whilst on holiday and opened a bar.
Eventually, their relationship broke down, and a year ago, she began going out with Gabriel’s father.
The whole of Spain is in shock at the discovery of Gabriel’s body, just days after his mother urged the nation, on live TV, to ‘flood the country and the internet with little fishies’ to show her son they were thinking of him and wanted him home.
She had asked people to draw fish, add a message to the little boy, and hang them from their windows or post them on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
Gabriel had been fascinated with fish since he was tiny and knew the names of ‘dozens of species’ practically as soon as he was able to talk, and would be ‘delighted’ when he came home to see how the whole country had drawn him pictures of them, Patricia Ramírez said.
A day after Gabriel went missing, a man who had stalked the boy’s mother for two years was arrested after tampering with his electronic wristband.
Having broken the injunction preventing him from approaching Patricia several times, he had been ordered to wear it so that another worn by the victim would ‘bleep’ whenever he was in the area.
This time, her wristband did not warn her, and police found the man, Diego, had deactivated it.
He was remanded in custody and a plot of land belonging to one of his family was searched.
But Patricia had always insisted he could not have had anything to do with her son’s disappearance.
Authorities have sent a team of counsellors to Las Hortichuelas to support Gabriel’s grandparents – his father’s parents – and his aunts and uncles, who live in the area.