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Suspect arrested for murder in 1994 missing person case

12/16/2009 - Suspect arrested for murder in 1994 missing person case

A suspect was arrested Wednesday for murder in connection with a 15-year-old missing person case after authorities identified remains found in San Diego County nearly 10 years ago as those of a missing Redlands woman.

Seferina Marquez Ponce, 52, was arrested at about 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 16, at a home in the 1100 block of Ohio Street by Redlands Police investigators who had been working the cold case for more than three years following the initial tentative identification of the remains.

On Oct. 4, 1994, 18-year-old Sara Hernandez Reyes was reported missing by her family to the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, who took a missing person report. 

Reyes was last seen a day earlier at her residence at 1140 Ohio St. in the City of Redlands, where she had been living for approximately two months. Reyes had left behind her 11-month-old baby. 

Shortly after the missing person report was filed, a copy was given to the Redlands Police Department and the case was assigned to Redlands investigators. 

Redlands investigators conducted a missing person investigation, contacting neighbors and interviewing family and friends of Reyes. Extensive searches were also conducted in the local area.

Information led investigators to San Diego, San Marcos, Carlsbad, Merced and New Brunswick, N.J., for interviews with potential witnesses. Eventually all leads were exhausted and the missing person report became inactive.

On Feb. 14, 2000, the San Diego Sheriff’s Department discovered human skeletal remains of a young female in a shallow gravesite located in the Valley Center area of eastern San Diego County. The San Diego Sheriff’s Department began a homicide investigation and attempted to identify the skeletal remains. A reconstruction of the remains was entered into The Doe Network, an international center for missing and unidentified persons.

On Aug. 23, 2006, the San Diego Sheriff’s Department received information from The Doe Network with several cases, including Sara Reyes, fitting the description of the Jane Doe recovered in 2000. That information was passed along to the San Diego Medical Examiner’s Office, which contacted the Redlands Police Department and requested that an investigator contact Reyes’ family to obtain DNA for profiling and comparison to Jane Doe. 

On Sept. 26, 2006, Redlands Police contacted Reyes’ parents and gathered oral swabs to obtain a DNA profile which was then entered into the California and National Missing Persons DNA Database and compared to profiles recovered from the skeletal remains.

In June 2007, the preliminary DNA results from the San Diego Medical Examiner’s Office indicated that Reyes’ parents could not be excluded as the biological parents of the recovered remains. The Medical Examiner’s Office determined the DNA results were not conclusive and would not issue a death certificate. 

In February 2008, the Redlands Police Department requested that the Medical Examiner’s Office conduct additional DNA testing in order to obtain a more conclusive result. 

On September 6, 2008, Redlands investigators located Reyes’ dental records and provided them to the San Diego Medical Examiner’s Office. 

On Oct. 20, 2008, the San Diego Medical Examiner’s Office positively identified the recovered remains as those of Sara Reyes.

The Redlands Police Department, San Diego Sheriff’s Department and San Diego Medical Examiner’s Office actively pursued the investigation and developed leads which led them to Wednesday’s arrest of Ponce.

The investigation is ongoing. The Redlands Police Department is asking the public for any additional information regarding the disappearance and murder of Sara Reyes.  Anyone with information can call Sgt. Mark Hardy or Detective Stephen Crane with the Cold Case Unit at the Redlands Police Department at (909) 798-7545.



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