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Reina Carolina Morales Rojas and the pain of not knowing

This is an excerpt from ¡Mira!, a Globe Opinion newsletter from columnist Marcela García. Sign up to get this in your inbox a day early.
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When a loved one goes missing, it presents an extraordinary burden on their family members, one that grows exponentially if the case remains unsolved. It’s not just the day-to-day angst of not knowing if their loved one is alive — it’s the tragic realization that they’re also victims who get revictimized over and over.

I recently traveled to Santa Ana, El Salvador, to meet the family of Reina Carolina Morales Rojas, an East Boston immigrant who went missing 10 months ago. She was last seen in Somerville the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Despite the fact that her boyfriend and her landlord/roommate reported her missing the following Monday at the East Boston police station, it took the Boston Police Department more than a month and a half to issue a public alert on Morales’s disappearance.


Family members in Santa Ana, El Salvador, held a framed image of Reina Carolina Morales Rojas, a 41-year-old immigrant who went missing in Massachusetts.Víctor Peña

Morales was a new immigrant to Boston, and she had no family in the area. The disparities in how the police handled her case compared to other cases of missing women made national news and started a public conversation about the way law enforcement treats women of color who disappear.

While she remains missing, I wanted to visit her family and friends to be able to paint a fuller picture of who she is. I was struck by the pain her two kids, Kimberly and Justin, visibly carry; the determination of her sister, Alicia, to bring justice to the case; and the quiet grief displayed by her mom, Reina Margarita.

I learned that everybody back home called her Caro or Carito, both short for Carolina, her middle name. I also learned that she and her 16-year-old daughter were so close that they often slept in the same bed. I learned that Caro was an exceptional friend, the kind of person who wouldn’t hesitate to help a neighbor in need. I learned that she was driven and happy, always ready to have fun and enjoy life. I also learned that she experienced gender violence, which is endemic in El Salvador. And I learned that her friends remain shocked that the case of a missing woman can go unsolved for so long in a country like ours.


To read the rest of what I learned, look for my long-form essay about Caro’s case next week in Globe Opinion; the piece includes outstanding images from Salvadoran photojournalist Víctor Peña.

Marcela García is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at Follow her @marcela_elisa and on Instagram @marcela_elisa.