ALTON — San Juanita Gonzalez Villegas has left her son Tony’s room untouched. She’s removed a few dirty socks from the floor, but his Disney Pixar “Cars” blanket remains on his bed, as does the mini shrine the 20-year-old made for himself with images of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary and candles that have remained lit.
Today is the 69th day since Tony Villegas Jr. has been home. In the two months since he’s disappeared from a sugar field in south Mission, the community has rallied behind the Gonzalez and Villegas families offering prayer and an ear on the ground for leads.
“If I hear any story, I follow through,” Gonzalez Villegas said in her Alton home on Monday. “Even if it’s a crazy story, I have to know if it’s a rumor or a crazy story.”
Villegas, 20, disappeared on Aug. 21 left his home around 4 a.m. and wasn’t seen or heard from again until 9 a.m. When she first noticed her son wasn’t in his bedroom, Gonzalez Villegas said she wasn’t worried.
“Boys will be boys,” she said, adding that she assumed he stayed with friends or at his grandfather’s ranch. “What was he doing then we don’t know.”
Mission police led an extensive search using dogs and search and rescue teams over seven days to find Villegas. The Border Patrol also assisted, using a helicopter in the area of south Mission that’s known for human and drug smuggling. After a week, Mission police called off the search and began asking the public for assistance in offering any tips on the man’s disappearance. Mission, Alton and Alamo firefighers and the Hidalgo County Emergency Management also assisted in the search.
“That area was completely searched,” said Assistant Police Chief Martin Garza Wednesday. “If we didn’t find a body there, lifeless or not, it’s not there. We feel it was a very thorough check.”
“He didn’t sound disoriented,” she recalled. “He sounded tired, irritated. I don’t think he sounded desperate.”
While Mission police have called off the active search in the area Villegas made his last phone calls, Gonzalez Villegas has stayed on the case with police calling almost every other day.
“I understand they can’t tell me the details,” she said of the few tips the police’s 24-hour hotline received. “I give them their space because I don’t want to blow the case.”
Mission police said they have followed all tips offered by the public.
“A few days after he disappeared, we got a tip that was at a store,” Garza said. “But when we looked at the surveillance tapes, it wasn’t him. It turned out to be nothing.”
In the meantime, the family has maintained a positive attitude. Every Sunday at 6:30 p.m. the Gonzalez family hosts a prayer meeting at their home off Inspiration and Buchanan roads. Occasionally, the mother and Villegas’ 12-year-old sister will step into Villegas’ room to replace candles or smell his blankets, “just to get a whiff of him.” Gonzalez Villegas, who wears a badge with her son’s face, also remains prepared to stamp any available space with her son’s image.
“I’m always prepared,” she said. “I have flyers in my car, a stapler and tape. If I don’t see a flyer, I ask if I can leave one and put it up. We’re determined to find him. We have to find Tony.”
Gonzalez Villegas said she doesn’t allow herself a moment of doubt.
“I know Tony will surface, I really do,” she said. “I refuse to hear anything negative. This is real tough, but it is a blessing in disguise. I don’t know how, but it is. I leave it to God at this point.”
For Villegas’ father Antonio, it’s been tough. His father has placed a big sign along Conway and 3 Mile Line roads with contact information for anyone who has information on the whereabouts of their son.
“I didn’t think I’d have the support I did,” Gonzalez Villegas said of the community and family support during the search. “This has changed my family.”
The family has stopped thinking they’d find Villegas around the fields they first searched this summer. He’s not there, his mother said.
“If we didn’t’ find him in those first five days – if we had found him, he would be lifeless,” she said. “We were so scared then. But Tony’s not in that brush area.”
Garza said Mission police is maintaining an active role in finding Villegas.
“This is an ongoing investigation that we’re still working and we’re going to keep following leads we receive from the public,” he said. “We don’t feel it’s near close to labeling it as a cold case. We’re just hoping somebody knows something. There’s always hope.”
In the meantime, the family said they would continue their quest for their son, traveling all over the Rio Grande Valley for clues. Villegas’ father has even searched in Mexico for his son.
“I’m letting go and letting God take care of it, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to push the PD,” Gonzalez Villegas said. “God has a plan for us.”
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The Progress Times is the hometown newspaper for the local communities of Mission, Sharyland, Alton, Palmview, La Joya and surrounding areas in Western Hidalgo County. We have a staff of veteran reporters who work diligently every week to bring our readers the latest news as it affects their hometown area and people.