Body found at former La Fiesta

Posted on Feb 07 2012

A body believed to be that of missing bartender Emerita “Emie” Relata Romero was found yesterday afternoon at the former La Fiesta Mall in San Roque. The Department of Public Safety is treating the case as a homicide.

Police officer Jason Tarkong initially confirmed only that a body of an adult female was found at the abandoned mall and refused to categorically confirm that the body was that of Romero.

Tarkong said the body still needs to be positively identified by the family once the crime scene has been completely processed and evidence gathered and preserved.

In a statement issued last night, DPS said that agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation informed police around 2:44pm of the discovery of a body at the La Fiesta Mall.

“CNMI DPS coordinated the notification of Emerita’s family members here on Saipan and in the Philippines,” the statement said. “DPS is treating this case as a homicide.”
Saipan Tribune learned that Romero’s sister, Lhet Relata, fainted after being told by police about the recovered body. She was taken to the Commonwealth Health Center late afternoon for observation.

The body was found at the La Fiesta Building 1, the northernmost part of the mall, which is overgrown with vegetation. Authorities immediately cordoned the vicinity of La Fiesta Buildings 1 and 2. The crime scene, Tarkong said, was processed with the assistance of the FBI and DPS.

The body was taken to the Commonwealth Health Center’s morgue past 5pm. Unconfirmed information indicated that there were signs that the woman was brutally killed. Citing sources, a KSPN report said that the body showed signs of sexual assault. Information on who actually found the body was not immediately available.

Seen at the crime scene were FBI agents Joseph Auther and Jeong Park, Department of Public Safety deputy commissioner Ambrosio Ogumoro and other police detectives, prosecutors, investigators, firefighters, and personnel from Department of Homeland Security. Everyone at the scene refused to talk to the media.

At least two Homeland Security vans, including the All-Hazard Command Unit, were parked at the exit of the northernmost building.

Investigators were still in the area when Saipan Tribune left the scene at 6pm.

Residents of a house located adjacent to the northernmost building said they did not notice anything unusual early Sunday morning.

The victim’s brother, Eduardo Relata, was still crying and being comforted by friends and relatives at their house when Saipan Tribune visited their home yesterday at 6:30pm.

“We just want justice for our sister,” Eduardo Relata said, adding that he has already notified their parents in Plaridel, Bulacan, about what had happened.

Eduardo Relata said they were helping conduct a search for Romero when Scott Dottino, one of the owners of Godfather’s Bar, called them to cancel the search as a body had been found at the derelict mall. Dottino was seen passing by La Fiesta at 5pm aboard a Toyota Tundra pickup truck.

Eduardo Relata said they proceeded to the scene but were not allowed to see the body.

Around 12pm yesterday, DPS Commissioner Ramon Mafnas held a briefing at Godfather’s Bar with about 20 volunteers, mostly Romero’s co-workers, friends, and relatives, to conduct a search for the victim. Mafnas split the volunteers into four groups and each group was headed by either police officers or Corrections officers. The searchers left the bar aboard several vehicles at 12:40pm.

When news broke out about a body being found at La Fiesta, family members and friends began to gather at the family’s residence behind Softland Computer in Garapan. Family members were still planning a rosary as of last night.

Romero’s husband and two daughters—17 and 8 years old—are currently in the Philippines.

Since Romero’s disappearance, she could not be contacted on her cell phone and was not answering text messages. She also stopped logging into her Facebook account.

Romero’s Facebook account was inundated since Monday with inquiries about her whereabouts. Late afternoon yesterday, condolences began flooding the account.

Readers checking a breaking news report on the Saipan Tribune website about the discovery of a body at the former La Fiesta Mall swamped the Tribune’s servers in the afternoon, causing it to freeze for more than an hour.

The 37-year-old Romero disappeared early Sunday morning. Romero reportedly made a 911 call on Sunday at 3:02am, saying “Marianas Resort” when the phone was cut off.

Romero was reported last seen around 3am boarding a green or blue tinted sedan in the parking lot of Call-A-Ride Saipan in front of Musung Building on Chichirica Avenue corner Kadena Di Amor St. in Garapan.

The last one to see Romero alive was her co-worker, Natalie Ocon, who saw her entering the front passenger seat of the car.

Ocon said she heard a man “with an American accent” asking Romero, “What’s that?,” apparently referring to the bag of bananas she was carrying.

Ocon, Romero, and two other co-workers left Godfather’s Bar Sunday at 2:43am aboard a taxicab on their way home to Garapan.

The taxicab first dropped Ocon at her residence at Casa de Felipe, followed by Romero and their two other co-workers. The three employees live just a few blocks from each other.

A surveillance camera at Ace Poker showed a car passing Kadena Di Amor St. toward Middle Road at 2:54am.

A surveillance camera at Ocean Market showed a car passing Kadena Di Amor St. toward Middle Road at 2:50am or almost at the same time. Ace Poker is located a few blocks from Ocean Market. Both footages are blurred as it was dark at the time.

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