A body pulled from the Río Grande river last week has been identified as Juan Muñoz, the 20-year-old National Guardsman who went missing during training in New Mexico nearly three months ago, the New Mexico State Police confirmed Tuesday.
NMSP Spokesperson Lieutenant Mark Soriano told Dateline that the Taos County Sheriff’s Office received a report last Wednesday that a kayaker had discovered a body downstream of the Río Grande Gorge Bridge in the Río Grande River near Taos.
The body was recovered by the Taos County Sheriff’s Office Rafting Team and turned over to the Office of the Medical Investigator in Albuquerque. On Tuesday morning it was positively identified as Juan Muñoz.
Lieutenant Soriano told Dateline that Juan’s official cause of death is pending autopsy report results from the Office of the Medical Investigator.
Juan, who was featured in Dateline’s “Missing in America” series last month, has been missing since February 20, 2021.He was at the National Guard Armory in Rio Rancho for the weekend, but reportedly never returned for drill on Sunday, February 21.
Juan was reported missing by his sergeant later that day when his car was located at the Río Grande Gorge Bridge near Taos. His belongings, including his wallet, ID, debit card, cell phone and car keys, were inside the vehicle.
His mother, Elizabeth Rivera, told Dateline in April that security guards working at the Río Grande Gorge Bridge later reported they had seen Juan’s car in a parking lot near the bridge on the evening of February 20. They told family members that the vehicle had pulled into the lot around 8 p.m., followed by another car. The second vehicle stayed for several minutes and then sped off, heading east across the bridge into Taos, the guards told the family.
Extensive searches had been conducted over the past couple of months and the family continued to hold prayer vigils, hoping for a good outcome.
Juan, who worked with the elderly at a retirement center, and had applied to the Albuquerque Police Department shortly before his disappearance, was described by his mother as quiet and responsible, and someone who had plans for his life.
After receiving the heartbreaking news that Juan had been found, his family posted a statement to the “Help Find Juan Muñoz” Facebook page:
🕊 To Everyone,
Our beloved Juan Muñoz has finally come home. Unfortunately he is no longer with us. Please keep Juan and our family in your prayers.
Funeral services are pending.
Thank you to all of you who have helped us through these very difficult times.
Nuestro querido Juan Muñoz finalmente ha vuelto a casa. Desafortunadamente, ya no está con nosotros. Por favor, mantenga a Juan y nuestra familia en sus oraciones.
Los servicios funerarios aún están pendientes.
Gracias a todos los que nos han ayudado en estos tiempos tan difíciles.
Juan’s case remains under investigation and anyone with information that might be helpful is asked to contact New Mexico State Police at 575-758-8878.