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A year gone by

WORTHINGTON -- One year ago, Lucia Chilel-Perez was at home with her family, but on June 26, 2011, she got in a car with a family acquaintance to go job hunting in Iowa. She still hasn't come home.

"To date, we're still searching for a clue or a sign of where she might be," said Worthington Police Det. Sgt. Kevin Flynn. "We have no crime scene and absolutely nothing on which to base a physical search."

Chilel-Perez, who has an adult son, two young boys and a sister in Worthington, was last seen in Sheldon, Iowa, where she and the man she was with, Bernardo Ramirez-Perez, stopped in at a possible employment location. At the hog facility, she saw her brother-in-law. Later in the day, she called her sister around 4 p.m. and said she would be home in a while. She was supposed to call when she got back to Worthington, but was never heard from again.

Ramirez-Perez, who is wanted on a 2005 warrant for kidnapping and criminal sexual conduct, was questioned by authorities after family members reported the disappearance. He said Chilel-Perez had been taken into custody in Hull, Iowa, for some kind of immigration problem. Flynn said his department made contact with departments in Iowa and spoke with immigration agencies, all of which had no knowledge of Chilel-Perez or her whereabouts. Ramirez-Perez described the place of her custody as a private residence in Hull, but nothing was found.

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension processed the vehicle Ramirez-Perez had been driving the evening of June 26, 2011, when he returned to Worthington without Chilel-Perez and bearing a large scratch on his face, but couldn't find any evidence that gave a clue to Chilel-Perez's disappearance.

"You can speculate about what took place, but it is just unknown," Flynn said. "Nothing was ever found --not a cell phone or a purse. Nothing."

Flynn described the investigation as looking for a needle in a haystack, but without the haystack. Shortly after Chilel-Perez went missing, Ramirez-Perez returned to Guatemala. Authorities have contacted the Guatemalan embassy and have gotten U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) involved, but with no results.

"If past history repeats itself, he'll wander into the U.S. at one point and we may have an opportunity to speak to him," Flynn explained. "Until we find some more of the puzzle pieces, we have a mystery on our hands."

In the meantime, her family is devastated by their loss. Authorities have no reason to believe Chilel-Perez simply abandoned her family, which would be out of character.

"She's not that kind of person," Flynn said.

Ramirez-Perez, on the other hand, has a criminal history of alleged sexual violence and physical abuse, and has four known aliases.

Around the time of Chilel-Perez's disappearance, Ramirez-Perez worked at a hog processing facility in Hospers, Iowa, and drove back and forth between there and Worthington on a regular basis.

Investigators from Minnesota and Iowa met when the case first began and released descriptions of Chilel-Perez in all areas she may have been -- where she saw her brother-in-law, where cell phone records show her phone was last used.

Now, one year later, authorities are asking people to be aware of the disappearance of the mother and sister so desperately missed by her family. The Sioux County Sheriff's Office in Iowa has searched various areas, but there is always the hope someone will come across a personal effect or some kind of clue that could help the case.

Chilel-Perez is described as 5 feet 2 inches tall, weighs 120 to 140 pounds and has long black hair. At the time she vanished, she was wearing an ankle-length denim skirt and a black short-sleeved blouse. She was carrying a black back pack.

Anyone with information regarding her whereabouts is asked to contact the Worthington Police Department at 507-372-2136.