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Woman’s whereabouts a mystery after 25 years

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Zita Cecilia Gutierrez came to the United States from Ecuador to live the American dream. Instead, she became lost in a nightmare.

The Montgomery College student from Rockville, who was known to most as Cecilia, was working two summer jobs to pay for her education and make ends meet. She had a position at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda and had been working for about a week as a cocktail waitress at Kenwood Country Club, also in Bethesda, said her aunt, Aida Unda.

After finishing her shift at Kenwood one night, Gutierrez left to meet her fiancé and some friends at a local nightclub.

That was 25 years ago, and Gutierrez has not been seen since.

Gutierrez was 24 years old when she disappeared, and is described as 5 feet tall, 110 pounds, with black hair and brown eyes. She had been living in Montgomery County for about four years before she went missing.

On Aug. 23, 1980, the day after her disappearance, her 1971 Dodge Challenger was found in a parking lot adjacent to a bus stop near NIH, said Detective Jayne Bowers of the Montgomery County Police Department, who has been working on the case since 2003.

The Doe Network, a nonprofit organization that assists police with missing persons’ investigations, is trying to renew interest in this case that has gone unsolved.

Gutierrez was supposed to pick up a friend near NIH by 9:30 p.m. Aug. 22, 1980. Although a co-worker saw her car leaving the country club shortly after she checked out of work at 9:25 p.m., he could not confirm whether she was in it, Bowers said.

‘‘We believe Zita thought that she would meet that friend at the bus stop that is right at NIH,” Bowers said.

But her friend was waiting at a different bus stop farther from the facility.

Her fiancé, a student visiting from Pennsylvania, thought Gutierrez’s car may have broken down, Bowers said. He picked up Gutierrez’s friend and they tried to find Gutierrez, but after an unsuccessful search they called police at 2 a.m., she added.

Unda, of Wheaton, said police did not find any hair or nails or other evidence of a struggle in the vicinity where her car was found.

‘‘We don’t know if she’s dead or she’s alive,” Unda said. ‘‘It’s like the air opened and swallowed her.”

Anyone with information about Gutierrez’s disappearance can call Montgomery County Police at 301-279-1602.

Editor’s Note: Staff Writer Liza Gutierrez is not related to the subject of this story.

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