His daughter disappeared 27 years ago: “We may not see her again, but we are still looking for her”

A few days ago the day of people missing without apparent cause was commemorated.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
30 March 2024 Saturday 10:24
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His daughter disappeared 27 years ago: “We may not see her again, but we are still looking for her”

A few days ago the day of people missing without apparent cause was commemorated. It has been celebrated in Spain every March 9 since 2010, the year in which Congress established it thanks to the tireless struggle of the parents of Cristina Bergua, who disappeared in Cornellà de Llobregat on March 9, 1997 when she was 16 years old (this year in 2024 she would turn 44). Juan and Luisa not only contributed with their perseverance to establishing this day, but also to promoting the creation of the first association of relatives of missing persons, specialized police units or the unification of complaint databases. In 2024, 27 years have passed since that fateful March 9, about which almost three decades later little is still known.

I understand that it must not be easy to deal with every time a new anniversary of your daughter's disappearance occurs.

Luisa: Not only does each anniversary become very difficult, but also day to day. We are getting older, and it is becoming more and more difficult for us to cope. At first we thought that the case would somehow be resolved for better or worse. But the years go by and it is very difficult to move forward.

From what he says, the passage of time has not helped to mitigate, even a little, the pain, quite the opposite.

L: That's right. And you don't know what to do and where to go. The first few years, you distributed posters, photographs, you went to one place or another... there were things to do. But as time goes by, you no longer know where to go.

I wonder how one is able to cope with pain like that.

L: We think that as parents we have the obligation to fight and know what happened to our daughter. That's what gives us strength. We also have another son, older than Cristina, and we have to move forward for him too.

Have you ever thought you were close to knowing what happened? I remember that months after their daughter disappeared they received an anonymous letter.

Juan: Yes, the National Police of Cornellà received it. The sender said “help.” He advised us to look for Cristina's body in the garbage containers in Cornellà. Eleven months passed from when the letter was received until work began at the Garraf landfill [where all the garbage from the metropolitan area was going to end up].

Eleven months?

J: Yes. They were working for 30 days and then they stopped because of the heat and because the administrations could not agree on who had to assume the cost. We notified the Department of Justice of the Generalitat that if work was not restarted we would begin a hunger strike. The tasks were resumed months later and after 30 days they stopped again. The police told me that after 60 days, the search was no longer possible, taking into account that, perhaps, the anonymous person could be giving false information. Later I learned that it was the department that stopped the work due to its high cost. They were talking about 100 million pesetas. In reality there were about ten.

27 years later, do you have any suspicions?

J: At first we were suspicious of the guy she was said to be dating. That afternoon they saw each other. We contacted him immediately and at no time was he alarmed by Cristina's disappearance. He didn't go out to look for her or anything. The police began to investigate him as they were the last to see her. From what they had been able to gather from my daughter's surroundings, it seems that she had the intention of breaking up with him that same afternoon. However, in 27 years it has not been possible to demonstrate her involvement. There has been no indication. The Mossos d'Esquadra, who started the investigation from scratch in 2008, did not find anything either.

The Mossos came to interview him.

J: Yes, they have also called him several times. They tell me that except for small contradictions, which can occur in any statement, there is nothing.

Do you hope that one day you can find out what happened and close this chapter?

J: Hope is the only thing you have left. After 27 years and being realistic, we understand that we may not see her again, but that does not stop us from continuing to look for her.

For various reasons, you requested in 2017 that Cristina be officially declared deceased. I understand, however, that the case is not closed.

L: Still open. The police inform you if they have any news.

It is not easy to do that procedure.

J: To make the death of a missing person official, which can be done after ten years, the judge tells you that it has to be published twice in the BOE, upon payment, also in two newspapers (one national and the other local) and two radio stations (also national and local respectively). This generates a fairly significant cost and it should not be like this, because if the law itself tells you that after ten years you can declare him dead, why does that money have to be paid?

L: Also, you have to find a lawyer and a solicitor. That is, more expenses.

J: This is not normal and in many programs I have attended I have reported it. That is why we want the status of the missing person to become a reality. Imagine a couple that has two children and the father, who is the one who brought home the payroll, disappears. What does the woman do? What does she live on? How does she take care of her children? How do you pay the mortgage? It is impossible. Well, they make you wait ten years to be able to declare him deceased and thus collect widow's pay. And during those ten years, what? The statute is presented to the Cortes Generales and the only thing missing is for it to be approved.

Have you felt very helpless all this time?

J: When Cristina happened there was nothing about missing persons. Even the National Police did not accept our report of her disappearance on the first day. They told us we had to wait 48 hours, when now they tell you that the first few hours are crucial. There were no family associations, we had no one.

They were alone.

J: Today, fortunately, and thanks in part to our struggle, the National Center for Disappeared Persons (CNDES) exists. Our case became well known for all the effort we made, distributing photographs everywhere. From Cristina we have distributed more than 300,000 in color. We spent a lot of money, all we had. The pity is that after so many years fighting, so much sacrifice, the missing are still missing. There is something wrong here.

And what's wrong?

J: I know that lately the Ministry of the Interior has contributed more money to the CNDES so that there are more agents and better search methods. But we must not forget that there are many long-term missing persons. Police cannot focus only on recent disappearances. That this organization exists is due, among other things, to the families who found themselves in this situation more than 20 years ago. I am very happy that the CNDES is a reality and that more current disappearances are being clarified. It must be clear that behind a missing person there is a family that suffers. But I also want those from many years ago to be clarified. Those disappeared are the great forgotten ones.

He believes that resources are no longer allocated to them.

J: I remember that once we were in Madrid at the UDEV (violent crimes unit of the National Police) and I asked the person in charge about the department that they say has 20 police officers specialized in searching for missing people. I wanted to know how long they were looking for a missing person, and he told me that up to two years, maximum three, and then they would have to leave him to deal with new cases. And there I told him what happened then with the cases of long-term missing persons, like that of my daughter. He told me that they couldn't do anything there anymore, that a lot of time had passed and it was very difficult. Of course it's difficult, I responded, and as time goes by it will be much more difficult, because they will have less interest in looking for them. We need to know so we can rest. If they find some remains, they do the comparison with our DNA samples and it is concluded that she is Cristina, she will hurt our souls, but in a way we will rest.

They will be able to turn the page.

J: Sure. But now, you don't even have the right to give your daughter a decent mourning. You can't do it because there is no body, and that is very hard. And we have been like this for 27 years and we don't know how much longer we will have to endure.