The safe recovery of baby Sofia Gonzales on her eighth day of life early Saturday morning in a Dallas house was an answer to many prayers, a close friend of the family said.
But officials and loved ones alike acknowledged there’s no escaping the bittersweet feeling brought on by the reality that Sofia has lost her mother.
“This is the best possible outcome to a very sad case,” Wichita Police Chief Gordon Ramsay said in announcing that Sofia had been found Saturday morning and was in good health.
Sofia’s mother, 27-year-old Laura Abarca-Nogueda, was found shot to death in her west Wichita apartment when her boyfriend, Sofia’s father, returned home from work Thursday afternoon.
Sofia was missing and her father couldn’t find her. When he called 911 to report what happened, that set off a frantic search that spread nationwide with the significant assistance of the FBI, Ramsay said.
“I can’t thank them enough,” Ramsay said of the FBI.
He also praised the Dallas Police Department, which “dropped everything” to assist in the case as soon as they learned of Sofia’s whereabouts. A Dallas police SWAT team executed a search warrant at a house around 4:30 a.m. Saturday and took two people into custody.
Sofia was alive and healthy, Ramsay said, and was placed in protective custody. She was on a plane back to Wichita with detectives by 5 p.m. Saturday.
Her family was eagerly awaiting a reunion – and preparing to say goodbye to her mother.
“They should be picking things out for the nursery instead of picking out a casket,” local minister Odell Harris Jr., whose wife was “like a sister” to Abarca-Nogueda, said of family members.
“She has not yet stopped crying,” he said of his wife.
Sofia’s safe recovery is a sign that “God answered our prayers,” Harris said.
Yet the joy of Sofia’s recovery is shrouded with the heartbreak of losing her mother, he said.
“They should be enjoying the beauty of a new life and a new addition to the family,” Harris said. “Now they’re planning a funeral.”
The person who took Sofia to Dallas knew Abarca-Nogueda, Ramsay said, but he would not provide further details.
Investigators worked around the clock since Sofia went missing, he said.
“Hard work and the collaboration with the FBI is really what made this (closure) come about,” Ramsay said.
There could be more suspects, Ramsay said, though he would not elaborate.
“It is still an active investigation,” he said. “It’s a complicated case, and we want to make sure we get it right.”
Sofia will be reunited with relatives “as soon as possible,” Ramsay said.
Police have been using the spelling Sophia, though close friends on Saturday said the family spells her name Sofia.
As she grows up, family and friends will make sure she knows what her mother was like.
“She was full of life,” said Shivi Silva, the manager of the Chipotle at Maple and Ridge Road, where Abarca-Nogueda worked. “She cared so much about everything. She was so genuine when she was engaging with the customers.”
While some food service employees aren’t really interested when they’re interacting with customers, Silva said, Abarca-Nogueda’s interest was genuine – and it showed.
She was part of the management team that opened the Chipotle branch at Maple and Ridge in 2012 and was popular with her co-workers.
“She was the nicest person I knew,” Marisa Edgington said of her co-worker. “She got along with everybody, she really did.”
Her co-workers put together a tribute poster covered with photos of Abarca-Nogueda and signed it, adding words reflecting what she meant to them.
“Laura, you will be so missed, your smile lit up the room,” one tribute began.
Silva and Harris talked about what a hard worker Abarca-Nogueda was. She worked right up until a week before Sofia was born, happily telling customers that she was pregnant.
“She was so excited to have the baby,” Edgington said. “You should see the smile on her face” when she would talk about it, whether it was about choosing a name or what she had purchased to have everything ready when the baby came.
“People were just drawn to her,” Silva said. “A lot of people knew her, a lot of people loved her. You can see how she touched many lives, inside and outside the store.”
Customers are coming in, asking what they can do to help. Silva said he has been telling them to contribute to a GoFundMe account that has been set up to pay for Abarca-Nogueda’s funeral. Any money remaining will go toward raising little Sofia.
The account had raised more than $8,200 toward a goal of $10,000 as of 4 p.m. Saturday.
Funeral arrangements have not yet been made, Harris said. Family members have been concentrating on getting little Sofia home.
“It’s a deep hurt,” Harris said of Abarca-Nogueda’s death. “She’s going to be missed by so many.”
Timeline of events
Noon Thursday: Mother, 27, and 6-day-old infant Sofia Victoria Gonzales Abarca last seen alive.
Around 3:30 p.m. Thursday: Family member finds mother shot to death; baby discovered missing; 911 is notified.
4:40 p.m. Thursday: Wichita police release first photos of Sofia to public, ask for help finding her.
5:15 p.m. Thursday: Police announce search for 1997 purple Cadillac, say occupant is person of interest in the case.
9:15 p.m. Thursday: Police announce the Cadillac has been found, occupant is not a suspect.
Friday morning: Sofia remains missing; police have no suspects.
10 a.m. Friday: Police announce the FBI has been asked to help find the baby.
12:12 p.m. Friday: Police identify the mother as Laura Abarca-Nogueda.
4:15 p.m. Friday: Police Chief Gordon Ramsay conducts news conference on the case.
9:15 a.m. Saturday: Ramsay announces the baby has been found safe and alive in Dallas.