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A bullet-riddled van has led authorities to a mass grave containing the bodies of a missing Ohio architect, his fiancée, her sister and their cousin.
Jose Gutierrez, 36, was last seen by his family at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, when he left to see his wife-to-be, Daniela Márquez Pichardo, in Colotlán, Mexico on Dec. 22. His family told authorities he usually went to visit Pichardo three times a year.
His sister Brandie Gutierrez told Cincinnati Fox affiliate WXIX they were reported missing on Christmas Day after they were seen leaving a bar in the city of Zacatecas around 6:00 p.m. with Márquez Pichardo, her sister Viviana and the women's cousin Irma Vasquez.
"The bars actually noticed screams," Brandie Gutierrez told the outlet, adding that the family believed they were abducted.
"There were those who saw they were kidnapping them, there was a lot of panic, screams, but they didn't get them out and they took the vehicle," Rosa Pichardo, Márquez Pichardo’s mother, told TVAzteca. "They took the girls, my daughter's fiancé, Daniela. They took off, they went to Víboras."
Rosa Pichardo allegedly received a text from her daughter several hours later with nothing but a location, Brandie Gutierrez told Cincinnati NBC affiliate WLWT.
Mexican authorities say that the van was found about 30 minutes south of Zacatecas near the towns of Víboras and Tepetongo on Jan. 16 with 12 bullet holes, flat tires and an activated passenger-side airbag, according to WLWT and TV Azteca. Members of Mexico's National Guard found a burial site near the vehicle with four bodies — three women and a man.
Three of the bodies found last week have since been identified as Márquez Pichardo, her sister and their cousin. Although the fourth body is believed to be Gutierrez, authorities were awaiting the results of DNA tests using samples provided by his parents, who currently live in Mexico, to confirm that, Fox News reported.
Although family members told news outlets that DNA test results were expected on Monday, Oxygen.com could not reach the Attorney General of Zacatecas for confirmation at press time.
Brandon Saurber, director of neighborhoods in Hamilton, Ohio, told NBC News that Gutierrez was an active member of their community.
"Jose was not only a resident of Hamilton, he played an active role in improving the community," he told the outlet. "An architect by trade, Jose served as a volunteer board member on the City’s Architectural Design Review Board (ADRB). Mr. Gutierrez was passionate about historic preservation, and was actively restoring a historic home in the city’s Jefferson neighborhood."
Gutierrez worked for Champlin Architecture at the time of his disappearance, a spokesperson for the company told NBC.
His sister, Brandie, described him as a kind, gregarious man.
“He loves socials. He loves to dance. He’s a good guy,” she told WXIX.
Currently, the U.S. Department of State has a travel advisory for Mexico that extends to Zacatecas.
“Do not travel due to crime and kidnapping. Violent crime, extortion, and gang activity are widespread in Zacatecas state," reads the advisory. "U.S. citizens and [lawful permanent residents] have been victims of kidnapping.”
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