A year later, woman, 31, still missing

A poster in Collingdale in 2013 sought information.
A poster in Collingdale in 2013 sought information.
Posted: April 19, 2014

COLLINGDALE Every day, Olga Ortiz prays at the tiny shrine she erected a year ago in her Newark, N.J., apartment, right after her daughter, Melissa Ortiz-Rodriguez, went missing.

"She just disappeared," Ortiz said this week, likening the last year to a long and very bad dream. "To this day I just don't know where my daughter is."

On April 19, 2013, Ortiz-Rodriguez walked out of her Collingdale home to catch a train to visit her friend Evie Ramos in Newark. She never arrived.

Police have hit one dead end after another searching for the 31-year-old, brown-haired, brown-eyed mother of two young daughters.

"It's frustrating," said Robert Adams, Collingdale police chief, adding that the investigation remains classified as a missing-person case.

Four days after her estranged husband, Jose Rodriguez, says he last saw or heard from his wife, he called police to report that she never arrived in Newark. Rodriguez and his two daughters - then 8 and 11 - spoke to detectives.

The next day, Rodriguez hired an attorney. "The first and only time he has talked to us was the day he reported her missing. That is it," said Adams.

Efforts to reach Rodriguez though the attorney, Michael Diamondstein, were not successful.

Ortiz-Rodriguez did not have a credit card to trace or a phone in her name, said Adams. Her DNA is in a national database, but there have been no hits from other departments looking to identify a body.

Just after she disappeared, Rodriguez listed the two-story corner Collingdale house for sale and moved the girls to New Jersey.

Ortiz said her daughter wanted a divorce after she discovered that Rodriguez had an infant son with another woman. She was also to start a new job.

In February 2013, Ortiz-Rodriguez filed for a protection-from-abuse order after Rodriguez locked her and the children out of the house, broke the phone, and disassembled parts of her car, but she withdrew the complaint two weeks later, according to court records.

Rodriguez sold the bedroom set from the Collingdale home, said Ortiz. "What he did with her stuff I have no clue," she said. "He didn't want me to have no part of anything."

Ortiz said she has been kept from seeing - or even speaking with - her granddaughters. She got visitation privileges through the court system, only to have Rodriguez ignore her requests. Ortiz has sent Rodriguez certified letters, to find them returned unopened, she said.

"There is no communication," she said.

"I miss her dearly," said Ramos. "There is not even one day that passes by that I don't think of her."

It was unlike Rodriguez to call and check up on his wife, said Ramos. Rodriguez was very controlling and would often call friends to check up on his wife if he didn't hear from her or if she was late getting home, she said.

"I don't want to believe she is dead," said Anna Camacho, 29, Ortiz-Rodriguez's sister. But "I don't believe she is walking around breathing the air and not seeing her kids. That is just not Melissa."

Ortiz-Rodriguez's family and friends plan to visit Collingdale on Saturday to light candles, pass out posters, and pray.

"We are a small family, but we have a lot of love," said Ortiz. "We are here for each other."

"No matter what happened, we want to find my daughter. We are not giving up on her," said Ortiz.

Anyone with information related to the investigation is asked to call police at 610-586-0502.


mschaefer@phillynews.com

610-313-8111 @MariSchaefer

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