Friend to the End

Cold case: Two years after the death of Vanessa Romero, police are looking for leads

Vanessa Romero had plans—plans for herself, and plans for those she cared about.

The 18-year-old single mother was going to finish school, join the Army, raise her child and help give her ailing mother the gift of life.

But all of that went away on a June night in 2010, when Romero left her southside home to meet a friend.

Romero was found dead early the following morning across town, floating in the water at Lakeside Park on the eastside. A jogger discovered the body, but saw nothing else to help Tucson police.

Two years later, there are no strong leads as to who might have killed Romero.

"I just talked to the detective the other day, and there's nothing. Nothing," said her mother, Yolanda Romero. "They haven't found anything about anybody."

Police have never released a cause of death for Vanessa, and her mother declined to reveal that information at the request of detectives.

The death of her only daughter ripped a hole in Yolanda, who had spent much of Vanessa's last day with her daughter and her year-old granddaughter, Nevaeh. Yolanda believes the stress of Vanessa's death and the surrounding circumstances had a direct effect on her going blind last July.

"I went to bed July 3, and I was able to see; I got up in the morning, and I thought all the lights were off, and it was super-early," Yolanda Romero recalled. "But my son was like, 'No, Mom, it's 9 o'clock.' I haven't been able to see since."

Yolanda Romero described her daughter as a "very caring person" who was always looking to make nice with others.

"If she was your friend, she was your friend to the end," Yolanda said. "She wasn't afraid of anything."

Such a lack of fear could have contributed to what happened on the night of her death, her mother speculates. She said Vanessa had gotten a phone call about 7 p.m. that evening, and she argued with the person on the other end of the line. Yolanda Romero believes it was the man Vanessa had been dating, but she's not certain.

"She said she was going to get some ice cream at Dairy Queen and go to the park," Yolanda said. "She was going to take Nevaeh with her, but it was getting late. She left at 8:30."

Yolanda said she figured Vanessa would go to Rodeo Park, at Irvington Road and Sixth Avenue, near the Romero home—not Lakeside Park, some 10 miles to the east and nowhere near any of Vanessa's friends' homes.

"I never knew that park existed," Yolanda said. "Lakeside Park was way (away from) my house. I don't know why she would go there."

Police interviewed the man Vanessa was dating—the Tucson Weekly is not identifying him, because he is not considered a suspect—but nothing resulted from that. The case has gone cold, which leaves the Romero family struggling to move on while at the same time wondering what Vanessa would be doing if she were still alive.

Vanessa had dropped out of high school to have her baby, but she was attending a teenage parenting program and was three months from completing it, her mother said. Once that was done, there was the Army to look forward to. Vanessa also planned to donate a kidney to Yolanda, who has been in need of a transplant for several years.

"She insisted on giving me a kidney; that's just the kind of person she was," Yolanda said. "She was preparing herself and her daughter for a great life. I think (by now), she'd already be in the Army."

Anyone with information connected to Vanessa Romero's death is encouraged to call 911 or 88-CRIME.