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Ignacio Pineda talks about his daughter, Laurie, who was swept away along the Blanco River in 2004. After numerous searches for her remains, Ignacio struggles to find closure. (Produced by Sean Kimmons)

 

by SEAN KIMMONS

After floodwaters swept away his 24-year-old daughter into the Blanco River near Kyle, Ignacio Pineda never imagined the long wait he and his family would endure.

“We just cried, hugged each other and hoped that she was found alive,” Ignacio recalled, when his family was first told of Laurie Pineda’s disappearance in 2004.

Ignacio Pineda holds a framed photograph of his daughter Laurie. Authorities told the Pineda family on Wednesday that remains found in the Blanco River match Laurie. (Photo by Sean Kimmons)

The next few days, Ignacio said, he would go outside and look around the corner, yearning to see his daughter walking home. He also considered that she may have been sighted elsewhere and was suffering from amnesia.

“She’ll be home in a minute,” he remembered saying. “Until finally, I had to realize that there was no coming home.”

The Hays County Sheriff’s Office announced Wednesday that a human skullcap found last spring matched DNA samples of Laurie. The mystery that had beset her family for more than seven years was solved.

“Right now, we’re a little shocked,” Ignacio said Thursday. “Everybody is sad, and we’re trying to figure out what to do next.”

Missing

On Nov. 14, 2004, Laurie Pineda and her boyfriend Jason Schmidt were trying to drive through a flooded low-water crossing on Post Road when their vehicle was carried off the roadway. Authorities have said Pineda and Schmidt, who was rescued, clung to a tree until a floating log hit Pineda and knocked her into the rushing waters.

Authorities combed the area for several days, but none of the searches recovered anything.

In March, two men canoeing the river just east of Interstate 35 discovered the skullcap at the river’s edge, a few miles downriver from where Laurie went missing. A search was conducted again, turning up no other human remains.

The skullcap, along with tissue samples from a medical procedure done on Laurie in 2002, were taken to the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification for comparison.

Forensic examiners asked the Hays County Sheriff’s Office if any other bones could be found to help pinpoint a match. In mid-September, the sheriff’s office took advantage of an ongoing drought and held another search along the dry riverbed.

Pieces of women’s clothing were collected in the day-long search, and family members were called into the sheriff’s office to view the items. None of them belonged to Laurie.

Additional family members then provided DNA samples to aid in the matching process, Ignacio said.

Three months later, results concluded the skull was most likely Laurie’s. A final report from the Travis County Medical Examiner’s Office is expected sometime in January, authorities say.

Closure

A Hays High School graduate, Laurie worked at a pizza parlor in Kyle and spent her free time reading to children at the city library and nurturing her pets, family members say.

“She was a loving, caring person who just loved kids but never had a chance to have them,” her sister Rose Pineda has said.

Laurie was a likable person who loved movies and dressing up for Halloween, Ignacio said.

“She was the type that would make friends real quick,” he said. “She was just a happy-go-lucky girl.”

For years, Ignacio said, his time was occupied by not knowing where his daughter could be. He says he thought of Laurie frequently while awake or in his dreams. He would often drive down to the river and beg his daughter for a sign.

“I would sit in my truck and talk to Laurie,” he said. “I would say ‘please, please Laurie give me a sign to see if I can find you.’”

The family said they appreciate all of the support they have been given since Laurie vanished. The recent news can be seen as a beginning to an end to their tragic ordeal.

“We don’t have to hold on to any hopes that she is still alive,” Ignacio said. “I wish she was, but she’s going to be in a graveyard where we can visit her now.”

SEAN KIMMONS reports for the Hays Free Press where this story was originally published. It is reprinted here through a news partnership between the Hays Free Press and the San Marcos Mercury.

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