MISSING: Reina Morales Rojas

On November 26, 2022, 41-year old Reina Morales Rojas got into a car in East Boston, Massachusetts and some time later, was dropped off in nearby Somerville. That’s the last time anyone had seen or heard from the mother of two.

Though she was reported missing soon after, the public didn’t hear anything about Reina’s disappearance for almost two months, and if advocates like Lucy Pineda of Latinos Unidos en Massachusetts hadn’t stepped in to help bring attention to her case, Reina’s family wonders if her story would’ve ever made the news.

Now four months later, Reina still isn’t home and information is scarce. Her children and sister in El Salvador who once spoke to her every single day, await any sign that she is okay, all while fighting for attention on her case that took far too long to receive.

If you have information regarding the whereabouts of Reina Morales Rojas, please contact A-7 Detectives at (617) 343-4324. Share an anonymous tip by calling the CrimeStoppers Tip Line at 1-800-(494)-TIPS or by texting the word ‘TIP’ to CRIME (27463).

The Night She Disappeared

41-year old Reina Morales Rojas came to the United States from El Salvador just after Mother’s Day in May of 2022, making her home in East Boston. She is a mother of two, but Reina had to leave her children behind with their aunt, Reina’s sister Alicia Morales, to find work and a better life in Massachusetts until she could be together with her children again. She’d been a police officer back in El Salvador, but in Boston, Reina worked in food services and catering at Logan International Airport.

Being so far away from her family, Reina stayed in touch with her sister and children almost constantly. November 26, 2022 was no different for Reina and Alicia. They had a long conversation earlier in the day as they usually did, but when Alicia tried to contact her sister the next morning, she didn’t hear back. It immediately struck her as odd. 

Alicia tried everything to get in touch with her sister that day – texts, WhatsApp, phone calls, but Reina was radio silent. According to reporting in the Boston Globe by Hanna Krueger and Tiana Woodard, Reina had two cell phones – one she got for her birthday in October and her old phone that she still kept active and on despite having a new phone. Reina always wanted to be reachable, so the fact that she wasn’t responding to texts or picking up call after call was unusual.

Alicia couldn’t shake the feeling that something was off, so she reached out to Reina’s boyfriend as well as her landlord. According to Boston Globe columnist Marcela Garcia, who spoke to WBUR’s The Common podcast, Reina’s boyfriend hadn’t heard from her since the night before and he couldn’t get in touch with her either. When Alicia spoke to Reina’s landlord, he told her that Reina never returned home the night of November 26.

Being in El Salvador there was little Alicia could do to track down her sister herself other than keep trying to reach her. Finally, after almost a full day of no contact, Reina’s boyfriend and landlord went into the Boston Police Department to report Reina Morales Rojas missing on November 27, 2022.

Police Response

Although Reina was reported missing in November of 2022, her disappearance wasn’t made public until January 12, 2023. When Boston Police did release a missing person alert, Reina’s name was at first spelled incorrectly. 

In the alert, Reina is described as a Hispanic female, 5’5” tall, 145 pounds with black hair and brown eyes. They included several photos of her – each one showing Reina looking slightly different. She liked to play with her appearance – she had different makeup, hairstyles and hair colors in each one. 

Also in the alert, Boston Police disclosed that Reina was last seen getting into a car in the area of Bennington Street in East Boston on the evening of November 26 and was later dropped off on Alston Street in Somerville. That’s about an 8.5 mile distance between each last known location.

The first 48 hours after someone goes missing are the most critical, but 46 days passed before Boston Police circulated the missing persons alert. Reina’s sister Alicia tried to get police to respond and search for Reina sooner. They just told her to let them know when she heard from Reina. 

But that was the entire issue – Alicia hadn’t heard from Reina, and she didn’t know how else to get police to understand or care that not hearing from her sister for so long, not even a text to check in on her kids, was extremely unusual and concerning. Something was wrong and no one seemed to give a damn. 

Lucy Pineda & LUMA’s Involvement

As Alicia Morales fought to get any attention and answers from Boston Police, Telemundo Boston, a Spanish-language Boston news outlet owned by NBCUniversal, picked up the story. That’s how Lucy Pinera first heard about Reina’s disappearance. 

Lucy, who is also from El Salvador, is an activist and the executive director of Latinos Unidos en Massachusetts, also known as LUMA. LUMA contributes to the development of the Latin American community with their mission of protecting the rights, educating, organizing and empowering the immigrant community in Massachusetts. 

Two days after Lucy heard the Telemundo news report about Reina’s disappearance, a different news outlet contacted her for comment.

“One of the English media, they call me and they ask what is LUMA doing regarding Reina’s case?” she continued, “I ask them if any organization is already involved in the case, and they told me that no one was working on the case. So when they told me that, we talked to our members and I said, listen, we need to do something about this case.”

Lucy reached out to Reina’s family to learn more about her, where she was from and where she lived and worked. Lucy also contacted the Chief of Police in the city of Everett where LUMA is based, state representatives, and other local leaders to see if anyone knew anything about Reina’s disappearance. But no one had even heard her name. Reina’s name hadn’t even been added to NamUs yet, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System Database.

So Lucy called the LUMA community to action. They started posting live videos on social media alerting their followers about Reina’s disappearance, and took to the streets looking for her themselves.

The state of Massachusetts has a one-page info sheet available online detailing the recommended Missing Persons Protocol. The first step is to contact local law enforcement and communicate the risks to police so that any urgency is understood. This step includes the parenthetical comment: Advocacy may be required for police action.

Advocacy is what Lucy Pineda does best. She wrote two letters to the Boston Police Department. According to the Boston Globe, her first one sent on January 17th received no response from BPD. She sent the second on January 21st. It reads, in part: It is of grave concern to our community that the authorities have done little to move forward with the investigation of this case until now and without pressure from organizations such as ours.

Those letters were accompanied by social media posts and a vigil held in Reina’s honor outside the District A-7 – East Boston police station. LUMA members held signs with Reina’s face and waved their words on neon posters, “Police Silence is Police Complicity” and “Latino Lives Matter” they read.

Finally, Lucy got the attention of Boston Police and detectives agreed to meet. She planned to attend their scheduled January 25th meeting with attorneys from Lawyers for Civil Rights, working pro-bono on Lucy and LUMA’s behalf, but the attorneys later told the Boston Globe that police nearly canceled the meeting when they showed up. Not wanting to lose the opportunity to learn more about what was happening with Reina’s case, Lucy spoke to police without the legal representation.

Lucy challenged Boston Police on their response to Reina’s disappearance and asked why it took so long to publicize her case. They told her that because Reina didn’t have any family or friends in the area it was challenging to learn more about her.

But in a public statement to the Boston Globe, the Boston Police Department’s chief of communications Mariellen Burns alluded to the fact that the search started immediately even if the public wasn’t notified for almost two months. The statement reads, in part, “In our focused efforts to identify her whereabouts our investigative team regrettably did not share her information publicly until January 12th.”

Later, in an email statement to MassLive, Burns said, “it could’ve and should’ve been done sooner.”

Other Missing Women

None of this sat well with Lucy. Within the same few weeks that Reina’s disappearance was publicly announced, the disappearances of other Massachusetts women received ample police attention and press coverage. 

Ana Walshe from Cohasset, Massachusetts was reported missing by her co-workers on January 4, 2023. The very next day, Cohasset police announced their search for Ana with Massachusetts State Police joining the effort days later. The story made national headlines and took over the news cycle.

Brittany Tee from Brookfield, Massachusetts was reported missing by her family on January 13, 2023. Within three days, her disappearance was made public and State Police joined the search effort the same week.

Another Massachusetts woman, Lori Baxter, was last heard from on December 28, 2022. Though her case does not appear to be nearly as widely publicized as Brittany Tee or Ana Walshe, the first public announcements of the search for Lori Baxter were made within two weeks of her last known contact.

“You know, I feel like this is racist because the way they treat the people when they went to report Reina, I think they feel like [said], oh, okay, she’s a Latino. She’s undocumented. Nobody knows what’s going on with her or whatever,” Lucy explained.

Lucy told me that she told the detectives, “Thank you, because you’re doing a good job with the three white women, but I want to see the same actions with Reina. Why are you guys using drones, helicopters, use state trooper dogs, everything, all the resources to find these three women, and you forget about Reina?”

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