Earlier this year, a reporter for the Victoria Advocate newspaper in Victoria, Texas, contacted me to talk about my work investigating missing person cases. He specifically wanted to focus on the disappearance of Antonio Vela Jr., a music producer from Victoria who mysteriously vanished after leaving a bar on June 15, 2017, and whose disappearance I've been covering ever since.
The Victoria Advocate has followed the case from the beginning. Kit MacAvoy, the reporter who reached out, wanted to highlight how Antonio's family is turning to independent journalists and podcasts to reach a wider audience and hopefully generate new leads.
MacAvoy asked why I chose to cover Antonio's case. As I explained on The Vanished Podcast, thousands of people are reported missing in the United States yearly, but only some receive national media attention. People of color, especially men, are less likely to get coverage, and all too often, the focus is on whether they have a criminal background or a history of running away. Missing black and brown people rarely make the news let alone become household names. Think about it. How many missing black or brown people can you name without searching on google? Even more troubling, according to a 2019 study by The College of William and Mary, cases involving missing people of color are less likely to be solved.
Our news industry needs to improve how it covers missing persons in underrepresented communities. It's long overdue. I often hear from families, like the Velas, who feel frustrated, confused, and with nowhere to turn to get their loved one's case in the public eye. That's why the Velas and other families are turning to independent journalists and podcasts to help get the word out.
Click here to read the full article in The Victoria Advocate. I hope conversations like the one I had with MacAvoy take place in newsrooms across the country. It shouldn't just be us reporters, the boots on the ground, who should push to cover missing persons in vulnerable communities. It takes everyone behind the scenes, producers, executive producers, assignment editors, and news directors. They decide what you, the viewers, see on the news. While the media can't cover every missing person story, there are plenty of black and brown people whose disappearances stand out and desperately need media exposure.
In the case ofAntonio Vela Jr., whatever happened the night he vanished, he still has a family who loves and misses him. And, like every other family waiting for their missing loved one to come home, the Velas deserve answers and justice.
EXCLUSIVE: Suspect in 1976 gruesome killing of pregnant teen ‘Beth Doe' released on bail pending trial
Luis Colon woke up to a text message from a Pennsylvania State Police trooper that left him speechless. The alleged killer of his sister Evelyn Colon is out on bail.
"The trooper text me saying that recent changes to Pennsylvania's bail law required a bail amount to be specified, and I guess he was able to post the $250,000," said Colon.
Luis Anthony Sierra, 64, of Ozone Park, New York, was arrested in April 2021 for the 1976 killing of 15-year-old Evelyn Colon of Jersey City, New Jersey. The teen's dismembered remains and her unborn child were found stuffed in suitcases dumped along the Lehigh River in Carbon County five days before Christmas. No one knew her identity until DNA revealed it in March of 2021.
Follow-up interviews with Evelyn's family led investigators to Sierra, her then 19-year-old boyfriend, who she had moved in with a few weeks before giving birth, according to her family. Sierra, a retired bus driver, was extradited to Pennsylvania and held at the Carbon County Correctional Facility without bail due to the nature of the charges.
I spoke with Colon by phone. He stated that he and his family found out about Sierra's release this morning.
"I just can't believe this. No one called me or my family to tell us or to explain these changes in the bail law in Pennsylvania. We literally just found out that he's out and back with his family."
According to the website goldsteinmehta.com, the changes come after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decided the case of Commonwealth v. Talley, "holding that prosecutors must introduce real evidence that a defendant is a danger to the community and no conditions of release can prevent that danger in order to revoke bail."
Therefore, the practice of "simply asserting that a defendant committed a serious crime and should be held without bail is no longer acceptable, " according to the website.
In Sierra's case, court records show that a hearing took place on June 8 at which time bail was set at $250,000, which he posted on June 15.
"This isn't some minor crime he's accused of doing. He's accused of killing my sister, and he gets to go home until the trial? Now there's a dangerous man out there free like nothing. Someone needs to explain this to us," Colon said.
Sierra is charged with one count of criminal homicide. A trial date has not been set.
New Castle County Police: "Janteyl Johnson case remains a very active missing person investigation, and we need the public's help to find her."
I sat down with Detective Roberto Herrera for an exclusive interview about Janteyl Johnson's case. Herrera heads the missing persons division for the New Castle County Police Department in Delaware.
We know Janteyl, then 15 and five months pregnant, was in contact with several older men when she vanished on Feb. 3, 2010. Investigators believe she may have left with one of those men. I asked Detective Herrera about those individuals and if any are considered suspects in her disappearance.
Janteyl's family doesn't believe she left on her own. They feel she was taken against her will and are holding out hope that she and her child will be found alive.
Janteyl could be anywhere, perhaps even out of state. If you see Janteyl or know where she is, please call 911 or Detective Herrera at 302-395-2784.
EXCLUSIVE: Surveillance video shows missing Delaware teen Janteyl Johnson buying candy an hour before she vanished
On the afternoon of Feb. 3, 2010, security camera footage from what used to be a PathMark grocery store in Newark, Delaware, shows Janteyl Johnson, 15, walking in to buy candy. She's wearing a puffer jacket, blue jeans, and sneakers. Her braids are tied back in a ponytail.
Janteyl, five months pregnant at the time, pays at a self-checkout register. As she exits the store at 12:31 p.m., she's talking on her cell phone and stops to scratch her leg, then continues walking. The two-and-a-half-minute footage is the last confirmed sighting of the teen. An hour later, Janteyl vanished from her family's apartment and has not been seen or heard from ever since.
Watching Janteyl buying a bag of candy is a reminder that she was just a child, and no one has been held accountable for her disappearance.
"I can tell you that it's not normal what happened to her," said Detective Roberto Herrera, in an exclusive interview.
Herrera, a 19-year-veteran of the New Castle County Police Department, made Janteyl's case a priority when he took over the missing persons division in 2018.
"She was 15. She was pregnant, five months pregnant, so it’s a case that catches anyone’s attention right away.”
A missing pregnant child should've made headlines, but Janteyl didn't get wall-to-wall media coverage. She didn't become a household name. There was no social media frenzy over her disappearance. She was barely mentioned in the news.
I first reported on Janteyl's disappearance in 2010 for a news station I worked for at the time. I interviewed her mother, twice, but because Janteyl was classified as a runaway, there was no further interest in covering her case. Some Delaware newspapers mentioned Janteyl at the time, but as far as extensive media coverage goes, there was none. A few online outlets have recently written about Janteyl, and some podcasts have featured her story.
But what if from the start, Janteyl's disappearance had generated the type of media coverage that Gabby Petito or Lacy Peterson received? Perhaps she would've been found, and whoever's responsible for her disappearance would've been held accountable by now.
Janteyl's case serves as an example of how when a black or brown person is missing there isn't always an urgency to cover their case. There are plenty of examples to prove that point.
What we know is that Janteyl was talking to several older men the day she vanished, including the alleged father of her unborn child. Her family says he was the last person who called Janteyl and that her cell phone later pinged near his relative's home. Det. Herrera didn't confirm that information and has not named any suspects in the case.
“At the end of 2019 we put up a billboard in Delaware with her picture, and we also put her picture and information on a deck of playing cards and distributed them in jails in Delaware prisons," said Herrera, "and we actually got a good lead that I cannot go into detail at this point.”
Herrera wants Janteyl's family to know that she hasn't been forgotten. He feels this case can be solved, and is asking for the public's help.
"Like any other missing person, it's going to take somebody coming forward and provide us with more information. I’m hoping that we can get more with time and we can solve this to give some peace of mind to the family.”
NOW MORE THAN EVER, IF YOU HAVE INFORMATION ABOUT JANTEYL'S DISAPPEARANCE, PLEASE CALL NEW CASTLE COUNTY POLICE AT 302-395-2784.
UPDATE: I DISCUSSED ANTONIO'S CASE ON THE VANISHED PODCAST. GO TO THEVANISHEDPODCAST.COM FOR THE FULL EPISODE.
On June 15, 2017, Antonio Vela Jr., of Victoria, Texas, vanished after leaving a local pub. Other than asking the public to call Crime Stoppers if they have information about Antonio's whereabouts, Victoria Police have not released many details about this case. Not then and not now.
Antonio's family is desperate for answers. They want him home, one way or another, even if it means the former DJ and music producer is no longer here.
I met Antonio's mother, Ninfa Vela, and his sisters, Michelle and Natalie, in 2018. Victoria, a city of just over 67,000 people, is surrounded by Houston, San Antonio, and Corpus Christi. The Vela's have lived in Victoria their entire lives. Antonio, or TJ, as he's affectionately known, is her only son and the youngest of Ninfa's children. His absence has turned her life upside down. (You can watch our original story on Antonio here.)
I wanted to revisit TJ's case to include additional information from different sources who have their own theories about what they believe happened to TJ. But it's important to note: it's not what you know; it's what you can prove. That's why missing person cases are some of the most complex investigations for any police department. And this case is no exception.
On the night of June 14, TJ, then 36, went to a couple of pubs near his home. As usual, he ended up at a bar called Sports. He was a regular there. According to one of his friends I interviewed, who was bartending that night, TJ sat at the bar by himself and left at around 1:45, just after last call. He never saw TJ again.
But according to a source who came forward after our initial coverage of this case, at one point that night, a woman at the bar approached TJ and started a conversation. Minutes later, a man the woman was with confronted TJ, and the two exchanged words.
Not long after that, TJ said goodbye to the staff and walked out. According to the source, the couple left a few minutes after TJ. Victoria Police have not confirmed that information, nor have they said if the bar was equipped with surveillance cameras. When I went there I was told there were no cameras, but sources say otherwise.
As has been reported, on his way home, TJ stopped at a Cimarron Express convenience store to get food. But, according to sources, while at the store, TJ called his roommate and asked if he wanted anything to eat. Keep in mind, the store is only a few minutes away from where they lived; therefore, if TJ had just spoken to his roommate then it's possible that whatever happened when TJ got home, his roommate saw or heard something. Victoria police remain tightlipped about this case.
According to TJ's family, his roommate told them he found the garage door open and a plastic bag with food on the ground. He also reportedly found TJ's phone. The roommate did not call the police. TJ's family reported him missing early that morning, June 15. By all accounts, it appears that not much time went by before the Vela family found out TJ was missing.
His car was found on June 16 abandoned along Venglar Road in the town of Inez, outside Victoria City limits. It had a flat tire, and according to multiple sources, the driver's seat was moved up, suggesting someone much shorter than TJ could've been driving.
There are many questions. Did the store and bar have surveillance video? Did someone follow TJ home? Was someone waiting for him in the garage? Was he set up? Was he ambushed? Was he targeted? Was this a random crime of opportunity? Or did he leave on his own? Another lingering question: Who were the man and woman who allegedly approached TJ at the bar?
Victoria Police have declined to comment citing the ongoing investigation.
This June will mark the five year anniversary of TJ's disappearance. A lot of people miss him, and they just want him home, one way or another. If you have any information on this case, call Victoria Police or Crime Stoppers at:
Claudia Rivero Investigative Reporter/Producer