Family of killed Provo student pleads for answers

Elizabeth Elena Laguna Salgado is pictured here as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Pachuca, Mexico. She was killed shortly after finishing her mission when she came to Utah to study English. (Photo courtesy of Sara Yazmin Laguna Salgado)

Nearly eight years after Elizabeth Elena Laguna Salgado went missing, her family is still seeking justice and hopes to keep her memory alive.

Police have not publicly announced any suspects and have made no arrests in the case, although their investigation remains active.

Elizabeth Laguna Salgado was an aspiring engineer and former missionary from Mexico who moved to Provo Mar. 23, 2015, to attend Nomen Global, an English language school. She lived at The Branbury for less than four weeks before she disappeared while walking home from school on April 16, 2015. After a years-long search, Elizabeth Laguna Salgado’s remains were found in Hobble Creek Canyon on May 18, 2018.

Libertad Salgado Figueroa, Elizabeth’s mother, remembers her as an incredibly faithful and loving daughter and sister.

“She was always the example here in our home, as the oldest of the girls,” she said. “She was very obedient, very noble. She had a lot of love.”

Elizabeth Laguna Salgado grew up in Chiapas, Mexico. Her mother said she was a very faithful member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and taught Sunday School to the children in her congregation, whom she loved.

“She never got angry,” Libertad Salgado said. “There are people who are always angry and annoyed, and she wasn’t like that.”

Libertad Salgado described how her daughter told her she had decided to serve a mission for the Church.

“One day she said, ‘Mamá, God is so great and powerful and He sent us here to the earth, and we should be grateful for that. I’m going to dedicate two years of my life to God to serve a mission,'” Libertad Salgado said.

Elizabeth Laguna Salgado served her mission in Pachuca, Mexico, in the state of Hidalgo. Prior to serving her mission, she attended the Tuxtla Gutierrez Institute of Technology, where she graduated with a degree in industrial engineering.

“My daughter was so smart with math, with physics, with chemistry; she was so intelligent and she liked it a lot,” Libertad Salgado said.

After returning home from her mission, Elizabeth Laguna Salgado attended a course for business leadership. When she finished, she decided she wanted to take English classes in the United States.

Libertad Salgado recalled her daughter coming home from the business course to say goodbye to her family before she left for Utah.

“I remember she told me, ‘I want to see my siblings and you, Mamá, and Papá. I want to say goodbye,'” Libertad Salgado said.

Libertad Salgado said she comforted her daughter when she left by reminding her of how sad they had been when she left on her mission, but how quickly the time had passed.

“I told her it would be just like that with her English classes because it was only eight months. I told her we would see each other again,” she said. “But my Elizabeth Elena didn’t last even a month there. They left her there.”

Jason K. Jensen, a private investigator hired by the Laguna Salgado family, said Elizabeth Laguna Salgado moved to Provo on March 23, 2015, and dove into school at Nomen Global and work at a local restaurant. She began attending church at the Provo YSA 140th Ward, although she was technically supposed to attend a different ward, based on the location of her apartment building.

Mackey Smith, who attended the 140th Ward, said he was unofficially assigned to be her ministering brother, a church calling that encourages members to serve and befriend one another. He said Elizabeth Laguna Salgado did not move her church membership records into the ward before she went missing, so she never officially became a member of the ward.

Smith said he spoke with Elizabeth Laguna Salgado several times before she disappeared, and while he didn’t get to know her very well during the brief few weeks she lived in Provo, she was a very friendly and faithful person who always looked for the good in people.

“You could tell she was really just excited about everything,” he said. “She believed in helping and serving other people.”

Because Elizabeth Laguna Salgado had been in Provo for such a short time before she went missing, Smith said few people felt they knew her well enough to speak up to the public and bring attention to her case. Smith clarified that he didn’t know her particularly well either but was one of the only members of the ward who was willing to discuss the case because he wanted to help bring attention to it.

Smith said that discussing the subject over the years has become difficult, but he wants to honor Elizabeth Laguna Salgado and focus on trying to humanize the person who went missing, rather than having her just be another missing person.

“I don’t want to presume what she would want, but my guess of what she would is to still be an instrument in serving other people, even on the other side,” Smith said. “From what I did know from interacting with her, she definitely would want this experience, as horrible as it was, to still serve a benefit to somebody out there and help someone else be safe.”

Smith said the last time he heard from Elizabeth Laguna Salgado was when he texted her to let her know he was unable to give her a ride to a church activity because he was sick. He said her response was characteristically selfless and friendly and that she told him she hoped he would feel better soon.

Sergeant Spencer Cannon, public information officer for the Utah County Sheriff’s Office, said Elizabeth Laguna Salgado left school on foot on April 16, 2015, but it’s unclear if she ever made it home.

Her sister Sara told the Deseret News that she texted Elizabeth about the time she left, telling Elizabeth she loved her and asking what she was doing. Elizabeth responded at 2:30 P.M. that she had just left school. That was the last message Sara ever received from her.

The Laguna Salgado’s reported Elizabeth missing after she failed to read or respond to numerous messages. The Provo City Police Department began searching for her but found no helpful leads or information on what might have happened to her.

On May 24, 2018, the Utah County Sheriff’s Office published a statement confirming that human remains found in Hobble Creek Canyon several days earlier were positively identified as belonging to Elizabeth Elena Laguna Salgado. Because her remains were found in unincorporated territory of Utah County, they took over the case from the Provo Police Department.

The statement included no official confirmation of the cause or manner of her death and said the medical examiner would continue to identify them. Cannon said the circumstances of her death have caused investigators to believe it is a homicide, and they are still actively investigating her death.

Cannon said the case has been moving more slowly than police would like. He said one of the main obstacles in this case is the length of time it takes to process and test evidence for DNA and other markers.

Utah Cold Case Coalition co-founder Karra Porter emphasized that just because a case hasn’t been solved yet doesn’t mean law enforcement is no longer working on it.

This map shows Elizabeth Laguna Salgado’s school (in blue) and apartment (in red) and the general area she went missing from on April 16, 2015. Anyone who was there that day and remembers seeing her at any point is urged to contact the Utah County Sheriff’s Office.

“I think some folks attribute bad reasons or bad motives for why a case doesn’t get solved, and a lot of times it’s simply that the leads dried up or the funding dried up,” she said. “It’s not because law enforcement didn’t care about the case.”

Porter added that information from the public is key to solving cases like Elizabeth’s.

“One thing the public can do to help get cold cases solved is keep your ears and eyes open,” Porter said. “If you know something, even if it seems minor, a lot of times it is really important—contact either law enforcement or the Cold Case Coalition.”

Jensen said he is particularly interested in information regarding a YSA stake activity Elizabeth may have attended the week before her death. He said the stake she was in, the Provo YSA 10th Stake, met at Kelly’s Grove Park at the base of Hobble Creek Canyon on Sunday, April 12, 2015.

Jensen said that given that Elizabeth Laguna Salgado’s body was found in Hobble Creek Canyon, it’s possible that the event is connected to her death.

“Anybody that was at the pavilion, at the church activity, that remembers Elizabeth talking to somebody, please come forward,” he said.

Cannon also invited people who were in Provo in 2015 to consider whether they may have any information regarding the case.

“One of the things that we have to consider is that she was taken against her will, but we also have to consider the possibility that she was taken by someone she knows,” he said. “It’s possible that somebody stopped and rolled their window down, maybe they offered her a ride. Her being taken may have looked perfectly normal.”

Elizabeth Laguna Salgado was walking from Nomen Global, which was located on 400 West, just north of Provo’s Center Street at the time, around the corner from Hruska’s Kolaches and Pioneer Book. Police believe she was heading north to her apartment at The Branbury, which is located at 449 W. 1720 North.

“Think back to that day almost eight years ago,” Cannon said. “If you were between West Center Street in Provo and 1200 North or so between University Avenue and 500 West and saw a young Hispanic woman walking, even if it looked like a normal interaction, if you can remember anything about a person you might have seen her with or a car you might have seen her get into, let us know.”

Miriam Judith Salgado Figueroa, Elizabeth Laguna Salgado’s aunt, was last seen in August 2021. Anyone with any information regarding her possible whereabouts is encouraged to contact the Washington County Sheriff’s Office at (435) 656-6644.

Libertad Salgado said one of the most difficult aspects of this case is that her daughter felt she would be safe in Provo because she was surrounded by members of her same faith. She said she believes it’s likely that whoever killed her was in fact a member of the Church because her daughter mostly spent time with fellow Latter-day Saints.

This is not the only tragedy the family has faced in recent years; Libertad Salgado said her sister, Miriam Judith Salgado Figueroa, disappeared a year ago, and she asks that anyone with information regarding her whereabouts comes forward.

“I don’t know if the same killer was watching her. I don’t know,” she said.

Anyone with any information regarding the possible whereabouts of Miriam Judith Salgado Figueroa is encouraged to contact the Washington County Sheriff’s Office at (435) 656-6644.

Libertad Salgado and her family continue to campaign for efforts to find her daughter’s killer and locate her sister, even as years pass.

“I am not going to surrender,” Libertad Salgado said. “I want to find the killer. I want justice, I want justice. I have been suffering for years and I will not be content until (the police) catch the killer.”

Anyone with information regarding this case is urged to contact the Investigations Department of the Utah County Sheriff’s office at (801) 851-4010.

The Spanish version of this article can be found here.

Elizabeth Laguna Salgado’s family hopes police will find her killer and bring them to justice, but the lack of new information in this case makes it difficult to continue the investigation. Anyone who may have known or seen Elizabeth Laguna Salgado in the weeks leading up to her death is encouraged to contact the Utah County Sheriff’s Office. (Photo courtesy of Sara Yazmin Laguna Salgado)
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