Missing girl’s father found dead by Highway 32

Jeanene Bonner

Jeanene Bonner

If anyone was in a position to know what happened to 11-year-old Jeanene Bonner (pictured right), the Altadena girl reported missing from Los Angeles County last week, it was her father, Joaquin “Jack” Garcia. But if Garcia knew, his secret died with him in the cab of a pickup truck on the side of Highway 32.

Butte County sheriffs found Garcia on the evening of May 29 near Butte Meadows, dead from what is believed to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. His daughter, who had been traveling with him, has yet to be found. Sheriffs mounted a search effort to find her the next morning, using a helicopter, search dogs and a thermal imager to comb a five-mile radius around the crime scene. No sign of her was found, and the search was called off after less than four hours.

Sheriff’s spokeswoman Cheryl Broom said there are few leads in the case, and that the department is asking anyone who might have any useful information to share it with investigators.

“At this point, we don’t even know their direction of travel, which freeways they took or anything,” Broom said. “We didn’t find anything directly around the car. [Jeanene] possibly could be anywhere between here and L.A.”

What is known is that Garcia, 34, picked up Jeanene from her elementary school in Altadena, a Los Angeles suburb, on May 20, ostensibly for a road trip to Lake Havasu, Ariz., a journey of about 292 miles.

According to police, Garcia and his daughter instead traveled to Las Vegas, where they stayed at the Luxor Hotel for at least two nights. Strangely, Jeanene’s mother, Kim Almodovar, 34, was also in Las Vegas at the time, where she was said to be attending a convention. A sheriff’s spokesman said the mother was unaware that Garcia and her daughter were also in Las Vegas.

Garcia and Almodovar are not married but share joint custody of their daughter. Neither of them is supposed to bring her out of California. Almodovar reported to police that there was no acrimony or friction between her and Garcia.

Almodovar reported Jeanene missing to Los Angeles County sheriffs on May 27, two or three days after the girl was scheduled to return home. The first clues as to her whereabouts came on May 29, when Garcia was found dead behind the wheel of his silver Nissan Frontier pickup. He was carrying driver’s licenses from both California and Louisiana and had about $1,000 in cash on his person.

According to witnesses interviewed by sheriff’s deputies, Garcia may have sat by the roadside for as many as five days before passersby reported his truck to police. When the truck was found, its cab was seeped in blood and littered with children’s clothes and travel items. The 9mm pistol Garcia is believed to have shot himself with was in his lap. A separate blood stain, that investigators said is not Garcia’s, was found on the passenger side seat.

Investigators also found Jeanene’s bloodstained yellow jacket in a ball inside the cab. On closer inspection, pine needles and oak leaves were found in one of the sleeves, leading investigators to enlist the service of a Chico State University plant expert to help determine where the two types of trees might grow together.

The truck was taken to the California Department of Justice Laboratory in Chico for examination. Lab Criminalist Supervisor Ron Ralston, speaking in general terms about forensic investigation techniques, said that, in cases like this one, investigators often sift through objects found both inside and outside the vehicle to help determine where it has been and what happened in it.

“We’re trying to recreate the series of events that took place in that vehicle,” Ralston said. “We’ll look for receipts from stores and gas stations—commonsense kinds of things.”

Sheriff’s Detective Sgt. Andy Duch said that any tip, no matter how small, could lead to a breakthrough in the investigation if it could help determine which route Garcia took between here and Las Vegas.

“We haven’t given up the search,” he said. “We just don’t know where to search. We can’t search two whole states.”

Jeanene Bonner is 5 feet 3 inches tall, weighs 115 pounds and has long, black hair, brown eyes and a gap between her front teeth. Anyone who may have seen her or the silver Nissan Frontier pickup she and Garcia were traveling in is asked to contact Butte County sheriffs at 538-7671. More photos are available online at www.pollyklaas.org.