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The Justice Files: New tip could turn Rosie Tapia murder in a new direction

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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – He kept this information to himself for more than 23-years.

But it may help solve the mystery behind Rosie Tapia’s murder.

In 1995, the 6-year-old was abducted from her bedroom. Her body was found in a canal near the apartment complex where her family lived.

But in the early morning hours of August 13, 1995, a man who wants to remain anonymous was standing outside his home.  He said he saw a white pickup truck parked near the bridge by the canal near 1500 West and 1700 South in Salt Lake City.  He saw a man in the pickup leave.

“And as he did that, a kid come walking down the sidewalk and what I noticed about him when he come under the light was that he had on denim pants,” said the man. “But from about the knees down, they were dark, dark colored and from the knees up they weren’t that dark.”

He thought the teen was flared pants which were a style worn in the late 1960s.

But that changed when he said the teen got within three feet of him.

“And when he come walking by me the sidewalk was wet,” he said.  “But when he walked by me I realized his pants were wet.”

Police found Rosie’s body in the canal.  

He said he tried passing that information to police the very day they started investigating the case.  But he claimed no  one would talk to him. He told a few people what he saw that morning.

About three years later, he met with police after a relative told them what he witnessed. Police gave him several images of men and asked him to create a composite.

“I was looking at them and I was, I can’t make a face out of these,” the witness recalled telling police at the time. “Who I was talking about was way younger. These pictures don’t match up. These look like these hardened criminal males.”

He said he left when police wouldn’t help him create a younger image. And he never talked about what he saw that night again. That is until this week when ABC4 News received a tip and tracked him down.

Thursday, Rosie’s mother met him for the first time at his home and he told her what he saw that night 23 years ago. She had never heard this before.

“I was stunned ’cause I always figured it was somebody older and I didn’t think it was somebody younger,” she told ABC4 News.

Salt Lake City police did release a composite in 2010, but it was of an older white man.   The witness said that’s not the person he saw.  He claimed to have seen a Hispanic teenager.

“(He was) between 16-and-18 (years old),” he said.  “Really thin. He had a gold chain, a real shiny gold chain around his neck.  His hair was cut neat.  It was combed straight back.”

Rosie’s mother wished he would have come forward years ago. But she said she understood why he didn’t.

“He got discouraged,” she said.  “So hopefully now they’ll listen to help find this person.” 

Tapias said she was also discouraged with police at the outset of the investigation.

“They seemed to not really care,” she said.

But now the witness told Tapia and her private investigator who was also present, that he will talk with police. They’re hoping police will work with him to create a new composite of the teen and do an age progression composite as well.

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