ELKO — Wednesday marked the three-year anniversary of Stephanie Gonzalez’s death, but for Lidia Cortes, it feels like her daughter was killed yesterday.
Cortes described a sense of foreboding on the day Gonzalez was killed, saying her mother’s instincts warned her of the danger.
“I knew something bad, something wrong, was going to happen,” Cortes said.
Cortes told Gonzalez she should stay at her mother’s house instead of returning to her own home. Gonzalez had an estranged husband, Eduardo Puentes Estrada, and there was a history of domestic violence in the relationship, Cortes said.
Estrada is the only suspect in his wife’s death, Elko Police Chief Ben Reed said. Estrada allegedly strangled Gonzalez in her home on Garcia Lane. Gonzalez was killed on a Saturday, and her body was found Sunday underneath a pile of clothes on a bed in her home. Her two youngest children were in the home when their mother was killed, Cortes said.
Cortes had talked with her daughter about the danger of domestic violence, and Gonzalez wanted to get away from the relationship. However, as Cortes thinks is often the case in those types of relationships, Gonzalez still loved Estrada, her abuser.
Since her daughter’s death, Cortes has begun advocating to stop the cycle of domestic abuse.
“They need help,” Cortes said. “And it has to start with the abusers.”
Gonzalez was one of four Elko County women who were killed in 2011 by men who had existing or previous relationships with the victims.
“I don’t want to forget her,” Cortes said. “And I don’t want to forget the other women who died that year.”
Gonzalez and Estrada had three children together: D’Srey, 13; K’iawna, 8; and Andres, 6. Gonzalez was a wonderful mother, Cortes said, and she loved to be with her children. Cortes and her husband adopted the two girls and one boy after their mother’s death.
Cortes said the whole ordeal has been difficult on the children. They miss their mother, she said, and they still love their father. They want to ask him why he did what he did, Cortes said.
“It’s a double whammy,” Cortes said. “They lost both parents, one forever and one who ran away.”
Estrada took K’iawna and Andres, who were 5 and 3 years old at the time, to his parents’ house after allegedly killing Gonzalez. Cortes said Estrada told his father he had to run an errand, and left the two children with their grandparents.
Estrada hasn’t been seen since.
A state warrant has been issued for Estrada’s arrest. Reed said an Unlawful Flight to Avoid Prosecution warrant has also been issued. Estrada, 32, is believed by police to be hiding in Mexico, where he has family.
Reed said it’s challenging that Estrada apparently fled the country, because the Elko Police Department doesn’t have authority in Mexico. However, Reed said his office has communicated with federal and international officials about Estrada.
Elko police have also met with Gonzalez’s family numerous times to discuss the case and any new information, Reed said. Many police department employees feel a connection to the case because Gonzalez worked as a summer intern student at the office, Reed said.
Cortes would like to see her daughter’s killer come to justice. Gonzalez’s family has set up a reward fund to give to anyone who has information that will lead to Estrada’s arrest. Cortes said the fund has $25,240 in it, and people continue to donate to it. The “Stephanie Reward Fund” was set up at the Elko Federal Credit Union.
“I want to thank my family, friends, law enforcement and community members for loving us and supporting us,” Cortes said.
Committee Against Domestic Violence has been especially helpful, Cortes said.
Family, friends and community members gathered at Johnny Appleseed Park Wednesday night to remember Gonzalez during a candlelight vigil.
Kim Aveson knew Gonzalez because her children went to Heat Start of Northeastern Nevada, where Aveson worked.
“They were one of our great families and we miss her very much,” Aveson said during the vigil. “... I really miss seeing her run in to pick up her kids.”
Brandy Lively and Justi Gowin grew up with Gonzalez. All of their mothers worked at Pizza Barn.
“Through life we worked with her, were friends with her,” Lively said.
“We miss her a lot,” Gowin said.
Kimberly Bahe didn’t know Gonzalez, but she remembered hearing about her death. She attended the vigil to honor Gonzalez and said hearing about the family’s trials stuck a chord.
“I just came here to support the family,” Bahe said.
Cortes said she has moments of sadness when she thinks about her daughter. She hasn’t stopped searching for peace of mind.
“It has been a very difficult road,” Cortes said. “We do what we can with what we have.”
Estrada is wanted by the FBI, and is considered armed and dangerous. Anyone with information about Estrada’s whereabouts can call the Elko Police Department at 777-7300.