The body of Texas teen Elizabeth Ennen was found strangled on a Texas roadside this week, and police today said they believe her alleged kidnapper is a family friend who was identified chasing and grabbing the girl on a hotel surveillance tape as she was supposed to be babysitting his children.
Elizabeth, 15, was reported missing by her mother on Jan. 5, the day after babysitting Humberto Maldonado Salinas' two children at the Carriage House Motel in Lubbock, Texas, police said.
Surveillance video from that night shows Elizabeth walking quickly out of Room 113, holding her shoes and attempting to put her coat on, when a man police have identified as Salinas forcefully grabs her and forces her back into the room, according to Lubbock police. Minutes later, shortly after midnight on Jan. 5, the video shows the man grabbing Elizabeth, taking her to the parking lot of the motel, police said. That was the last time she was seen alive.
Salinas later went to the Elizabeth's home to deliver the girl's purse and told her mother, Virginia Ennen, that he had dropped her off earlier that morning. Panicked that she had not seen her daughter, Ennen called police. Salinas was still at the Ennen home when police arrived, and authorities say he offered misleading information, including implicating his own son.
"Humberto Salinas Jr. was present when that initial call was made," Capt. Greg Stevens said at a press conference today. "At that point, the person we believe is responsible for her death began the process of covering up a crime which we believe he had already committed."
Salinas is being held in Lubbock County, currently charged with aggravated kidnapping. Police believe he is responsible for Elizabeth's death. He has a previous criminal record that includes charges of domestic assault, felony theft and violence on a child, according to court records. Police say they are awaiting the complete results of Elizabeth's autopsy and want to continue working their investigation before charging Salinas with anything more.
Suspect Implicates His Son
After her disappearance, Elizabeth was initially labeled a runaway case because Salinas seemed credible to investigators and the family, police said.
"He [Salinas] had brought her home safely on numerous occasions. She had no reason to doubt the story he was providing," Stevens said. "She [Virginia Ennen] was quite distraught and she was relying on what a trusted friend was helping her with in making a report."
Elizabeth's cousin Chris Moss, who has been staying with Virginia Ennen since the teen disappeared, said Salinas blamed the girl's disappearance on his 19-year-old son.
"We were focusing on his son and it was because of him. He directed everybody towards his son," Moss said. "This Humberto Salinas...would make comments that his son is a worthless man."
Moss said local news reports that Salinas' son was Elizabeth's boyfriend are false and that the two were merely friends.
During the initial days of the investigation, Salinas stopped by Virginia Ennen's home to ask about the investigation, Moss said.
"He sat there and looked me in the eyes, he's the devil. That he had the audacity to show his face," Moss said.
Police say Salinas initially lied to investigators about where Elizabeth was babysitting. They believe he acted alone and are investigating several potential crime scenes, but would not comment on a possible motive.
It was 16 days and after Salinas' arrest before police said they believed the teen had been kidnapped, but police said that initially classifying Elizabeth as a runaway did not hurt the case.
"Even if some information had been available sooner...and the investigation had taken a different path sooner, it would not have changed the outcome of this situation in terms of Elizabeth's life, and that's very unfortunate," Capt. Stevens said.
Moss described his cousin as always smiling and dedicated to her studies.
"She loved music. She would turn on the music and study all the time. If she wasn't babysitting, she was always writing poetry or listening to music," Moss said.
Today, members of the family visited a funeral home to plan the girl's burial, Moss said. The birthday of one of Elizabeth's brothers is this Saturday and the family would rather not have the funeral on that day.
"He's already taking it hard enough. He's turning 18. He's a senior at the same school she is," Moss said.