Once upon a time in America, there was a young woman named Paty who seemed to be doing everything right.
She was devoted — to her family, to her church, to her job, to doing well in college so she could eventually get her own piece of the dream her parents had left a country to find. She didn't hang out with a bad crowd. Though any young man would have loved to have the pretty, smart, dark-haired young woman on his arm, she'd only had one real boyfriend in her life, and had kindly turned down all other suitors since they broke up, deciding instead to put her energies toward her studies. She was the good one, her friends and family say, the best of them, the most caring, the one who was always willing to help.
So it was even more of a mystery, then, when 20-year-old Patricia Garcia Guardado disappeared on her way to class one sunny morning last October, after leaving her burgundy Scion parked and locked in a lot behind a Burger King across from UALR. Four days later, fishermen found her body floating in a water-filled rock quarry near Sweet Home.
Though Patricia Guardado was Hispanic, this is not a Hispanic story. It's not a story about an outsider. It's not a story about The Other. This is a story about a young woman who anyone would have been proud to call their daughter; a born-and-raised Arkansan who seemed to be doing everything right and yet still met an end none of us would wish on an enemy. Left behind: friends, family, and a grieving mother and father who still ask themselves why. The whys eat at them, along with the knowledge that out there, somewhere, is a witness with information that will finally bring Patricia's killer to justice.
The room where we met Leonor Garcia — a small, dusty space in the midst of being converted into a restaurant, one door down from El Paisano, the store she and her husband own in Levy — happens to be the same place where she learned from detectives and her priest that her daughter was dead. That room in shambles, cluttered with sawed-off lengths of two-by-fours, drop cloths, carpenter's tools and assorted screws and nails, could serve as a fitting metaphor for the way her life has been since then.
"She was the apple of my eye," Garcia said through an interpreter. "She had a lot of dreams and a lot of hopes — a lot of dreams that she wanted to fulfill upon her graduation, which was coming up in 2013."
Patricia was always a smart child, her mother said, always dedicated to her school work. She'd graduated with good grades from Joe T. Robinson High School in Little Rock, then had gone on to UALR, where she was a student in the International Business program. In addition to her classes, Patricia worked as a teller at the Metropolitan Bank branch on McCain Boulevard in North Little Rock. About a month before she disappeared, Garcia said, Patricia's manager had told her that after she graduated with her degree, she could have a full-time career with the bank.
"For her, this was like a dream come true," Garcia said. "She told me, 'You know, mom, when a lot of people graduate, they struggle to find a job. With me, that's not going to happen. I already have a job, and I have a promise from my manager that when I graduate, I'll have a career here if I want it.' "
Patricia's friends and family also remember her as a kind and loving young woman with a sense of responsibility beyond her years.
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