A 42-year-old woman found dead Friday in a pond has been identified as Maria Gutierrez, according to the Merced County Coroner's Office.
Meanwhile, members of the victim's family said they're frustrated because they have many questions, but few answers, about Gutierrez's death.
Merced County sheriff's deputies recovered Gutierrez's body from a holding pond in a cornfield located in the 2900 block of West Highway 140, about two miles west of her home in Merced. Deputies responded to the scene after a farmworker located the body, according to Deputy Tom MacKenzie, sheriff's spokesman.
The cause of Gutierrez's death remains unknown. The case has been referred from the sheriff's department to the Merced Police Department because family members had reported Gutierrez as a missing person to city police.
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Lt. Andre Matthews said police are awaiting the results of Gutierrez's autopsy to help determine the circumstances of her death.
Gutierrez's family members said she disappeared from her home in the 800 block of U Street around 5 a.m. Wednesday. Five hours later, Gutierrez's husband Federico Gutierrez reported her missing to Merced police.
Family members described her as a loving mother of three and grandmother of two. Gutierrez's son Victor Gutierrez and his wife Christina said she'd suffered from a "chemical imbalance" and had disappeared after walking away twice before -- once for an hour, another time for 10 hours. "We thought it was postpartum depression," Christina Gutierrez said.
Still, family members say she wasn't suicidal, and they knew something was wrong after she hadn't been seen for five hours. The family members had also made flyers with Maria's picture by Wednesday night, passing them out to local businesses and residents. "We were searching at night, on foot with flashlights, every road you could think of," Victor Gutierrez said.
Victor Gutierrez said he also questions whether Merced police did enough to find his mother. While Gutierrez said police will send K9 dogs, air support and other resources to search for wanted criminals, he couldn't understand why an equal amount of resources weren't dedicated toward finding his missing mother. "When it's a person's life, they can do the same," he said.
Gutierrez said he and his family members have barely slept since his mother disappeared -- and Monday's news was a final crushing blow.
As for the family's concerns, Lt. Matthews said police did make efforts to find Gutierrez. He said Officer Jeremy Salyers took Gutierrez's missing person report and drove on Highway 140 and Highway 59 on Wednesday, searching for her during his shift.
Salyers also checked local hospitals and mental health facilities, to no avail. A "be on the lookout" bulletin was issued for Gutierrez to CHP and other area law enforcement agencies, Matthews said.
Matthews said each missing person case varies according to the circumstances, and police take every case seriously. "With any missing person, we take any reasonable precaution we can, and based on the information the family provides, we try to locate that person," Matthews said.
Born in Jalisco, Mexico, Maria Gutierrez came to the U.S. in 1985. She worked at Quebecor World Inc. for 14 years as a bindery inspector until 2009, according to her family.
Victor Gutierrez said his mother pushed her children to do well in school, and was known to give cans to the homeless when they asked for help. Victor added his mother "just wanted to do good" for others. "She was a hard working woman," he said. "If she could work 12 hours a day, seven days a week for her family, she would have."
Police are asking anyone with information about Gutierrez's disappearance or the case to call Detective John Fister at (209) 385-4755 or the department's automated tip line at (209) 385-4725. Calls are kept confidential, and you can remain anonymous.
Reporter Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.