Local authorities discovered her body in a field off Route 95 in Fellsmere, Florida, a sleepy town near Vero Beach. An autopsy is being performed in Florida to formally identify the body and cause of death, but police suspect it was murder, according to a statement from the Bristol prosecutor.
Three weeks ago, US marshals approached Zaragoza in the parking lot of a McDonald’s in Crestview, Florida, where he believed he lived. But the police encounter broke out in a shootout in which Zaragoza was dead and never questioned about the teenager’s whereabouts and welfare.
Fellsmere is about 790 miles from Crestview, and police across Florida and Massachusetts were working on the case to find the missing teenager.
Finklea, who was five months pregnant at the time she disappeared, spent the morning of October 20 in a doctor’s office undergoing the first operation in an unspecified two-part medical procedure. She then returned to her home in New Bedford, where she lived with her mother, who went to fill out a prescription for her daughter just before sunset and returned to an empty house 40 minutes later. Surveillance cameras in the surrounding streets caught Finklea leaving her house with no bags and slippers.
Nine days later, detectives found their black iPhone on the shoulder of Route 140 near the Freetown, Massachusetts city limits. Finklea was nowhere to be seen. The call log showed that the last number contacted was associated with Zaragoza, who quickly became the prime suspect in the kidnapping case.
“She’s my best friend and I knew something was wrong when I didn’t hear from her for an hour, let alone almost a day,” wrote longtime friend Geana Fonseca (18) about the day the Finklea disappeared in a message to the globe. “I could tell you that she is strong, that she always wanted everyone in her circle to win. For those she loved and those she loved, she would do anything. “
Finklea was supposed to be at the doctor’s office for a follow-up appointment on October 21, but she never showed up, according to a police report. She never told anyone in her family or her large network of friends, with whom she corresponded regularly via SMS, Snapchat, and Facebook, of any intentions to leave.
Finklea’s Instagram feed is littered with photos and selfies from time spent by the pool with friends, walking the streets of New York City, or celebrating her indigenous ancestry with the Wampanoag tribe. She last posted on October 15th.
The last call made on her phone the day she disappeared was Zaragoza, who used to go out with Finklea’s aunt, police said. During the investigation, Zaragoza’s mother told a detective that her son suffered from severe depression with occasional suicidal thoughts and that a police report said he had “the emotional capacities of a teenager”.
Police used cell phone recordings and surveillance videos to draw an intricate trail of Zaragoza’s meandering journey south from October 21-23. His limo – which was rented at Logan Airport on October 20 – shot through New Jersey and spent several hours at rest stops in Woodbridge and Cherry Hill. The car also drove through the Lincoln Tunnel, according to surveillance video and telephone records analyzed by police. There was no evidence of Finklea at these stops. By October 23, Zaragoza’s phone had connected to the WiFi network of a McDonald’s in Jacksonville, Florida. Staff later told police that the sole occupant of the car had ordered “a small meal with a drink.”
US marshals attempted to arrest Zaragoza on November 5 when he was spotted again at a McDonald’s in Crestview, Florida. Zaragoza died at the scene of a gunshot wound. It is unclear whether he was shot himself or hit by the marshals.
During a three-day run in late October, about a week after Finklea’s disappearance, a Twitter account under the name Luis Diamondz and the handle @ kingbarboza9 posted a series of pictures and videos that appeared to show Finklea and Zaragoza. One showed the duo how to eat calzone and mozzarella sticks. Another is a screen capture of a FaceTime conversation with distant audio. The finale showed Finklea in a tattoo parlor. A mask dangles under her chin.
It is not clear when and where the pictures were taken. The account’s bio contains several hashtags; among them is #jalajhia. The last tweet posted on October 30th was “#IWALYJF”.
IWALY is a common acronym for “I will always love you,” while Finklea’s initials are JF. Bristol prosecutors said they were aware of the account but declined to comment when asked who it belonged to or the date of the pictures.
Meanwhile, Finklea’s friends and family continued to post photos of the attractive 18-year-olds with a megawatt smile and a melodious soprano voice in the hopes that someone could discover them and bring them home. Her mother organized a search party to search the area where her daughter’s phone was found by police. While the family prayed, they also fought vitriol from online blogs and commentators who baselessly claimed that Finklea ran off to Europe or the family staged her disappearance as a money trick. The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe dedicated the cover of the November issue of their magazine to a photo of Finklea.
“Unfortunately, the growing numbers of missing indigenous women across the country are not getting the attention our Caucasian neighbors receive,” wrote Chairman Cedric Cromwell in a letter to tribal members published ahead of the announcement of Finklea’s death. “That is an ugly fact of systematic racism. The numbers are overwhelming. Our women and girls are being taken away from us at an alarming rate. “
In fact, several scientific studies have found that the disappearance of white people, especially women and children, is covered in far greater detail by the media than the disappearance of people of color. Missing cases with people of color also go unresolved at a much higher rate. In 2016, African American missing cases were four times as common among the remaining elderly and open-ended cases as the cases of white and Hispanic missing persons, according to a 2019 report by researchers at William & Mary.
In 2018, Finklea appeared on a community TV program, exuding confidence and serenity as she described the importance of education and her dream of embarking on a singing career after graduation.
“I started [writing music] for my brothers and my father because he died ”, said the then 16-year-old Finklea about her musical inspiration. “I felt that I had to do something and I felt that music was the right place because I can express my feelings in music and maybe the people who listen will feel the same way.”
She ended the interview by singing a cover of “You Should Be Here”, a mixtape from 2015 by the young pop artist Kehlani.
“I don’t know where you’ve gone, but now you’re lost,” Finklea whispered. “I don’t know where you went, but now you’re gone.”