Editor’s note: This story is updated from the version which appears in the Aug. 2 issue of The Independent.
A La Madera man went missing July 27; a spokesman for the Sandoval County Sheriff’s office said the department is following up on leads, but there is no active search for Jimmy “Pipes” Saenz. That’s according to Lt. Jason Benally.
A Facebook post July 29 organized informal search parties, which have been going on daily since Monday.
That effort is being led by the missing man’s girlfriend, Bren Chance, who created a Facebook group Aug. 1 to coordinate. She estimated that “at least 30 people are actively searching throughout various groups,” and said others have looked for Saenz without joining the group.
“There was the initial response by our agency, and we went out there and basically just got some information that he had been missing since very early Friday [July 28] morning,” Benally told The Independent Aug. 1. “We’re basically waiting right now to see if he shows up anywhere.”
Benally said Saenz has “a history of disappearing for a week or so at a time” and said the department “can’t confirm foul play or anything suspicious.”
Chance, however, does fear foul play. She said that Saenz’ cell phone, hat, wallet and cigarettes were all left behind, and said that when he “went on walkabout,” as Chance described it, he let someone know that he was leaving.
Benally confirmed that the sheriff’s department had checked his cell phone, but said they found nothing relevant. He confirmed that the sheriff’s department does not have an active search party out at this time.
Benally said initially State Police were called to help search, but “declined because [Saenz] didn’t meet the criteria,” adding, “He’s a grown adult. If someone wants to leave their house, that’s not a crime. … We got the cell phone. We can’t speculate, people lose cell phones all the time. If somebody wants to disappear and throw their cell phone away, that’s not a crime either.”
Benally emphasized that the department is still investigating, following up on any leads that come forward, and monitoring Facebook.
Informal search and rescue efforts have included dogs and volunteers combing through the La Madera area, along with other areas Saenz was known to frequent. Many have shared maps of areas searched in the Facebook group.
Chance said that on July 28, she found Saenz’ car, with the driver’s side window rolled halfway down, his key ring on the driver’s seat, and his water bottle. “That key ring had the keys to his house, car and storage unit,” she said.
Chance said she used Saenz’ keys to go inside, where she found the house had been cleaned and rearranged. She found his backpack in the same spot she had seen it the previous evening, the last time she saw him, Chance said. “His cigarettes were also sitting on the counch,” she added.
“Unfortunately, we have to wait to react,” Benally said. “If something comes in that he’s in danger, we’ll act. Right now there are no leads on it.”
Saenz is described as a white male with sandy hair and brown eyes, standing 5 feet, 9 inches tall and weighing 138 pounds. He is 43 years old.
Those with information about his whereabouts are urged to contact the Sandoval County Sheriff’s office at 800-862-7608. The case number is 19-1229.
“My hope is that Jim is being held somewhere, and that they may eventually let him go,” Chance said. She described Saenz as an alcoholic, but added that he was formerly in law enforcement and a volunteer firefighter. “He’d been having a hard time the last few months, between his health and losing his job. He is not suicidal. He’s been through way worse and made it through. … His will to live is strong.”
Chance said anyone who wants to help look for Saenz can contact her at 808-430-1267 to be added to the Facebook group.
Leota started working for The Independent in 2006, working her way up through the ranks. An employee buyout in 2010 led to her ownership of the newspaper. Leota has served on the board of the N.M. Press Association, and is currently its First Vice President. She is passionate about health and wellness, especially mental health, and loves making art. She can be reached at email@example.com.