Relative of deceased Kayla Gomez-Orozco in custody

Published on Sunday, 6 November 2016 18:34 - Written by FAITH HARPER, fharper@tylerpaper.com  

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The reported last person to see 10-year-old Kayla Gomez-Orozco before her disappearance is being held in the Smith County Jail.

Four days after her disappearance from the foyer of the Bullard First Assembly, Kayla’s body was found in a well next to a home one of her relatives rented, Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith said at a press conference Sunday afternoon.

Working an investigative lead, law enforcement asked the renter of the home, in the 2200 block of Farm-to-Market Road 2493, to consent to a search.

Earlier Saturday, hundreds of people searched the East Texas countryside hoping to find the little girl, but those search efforts didn't lead officers to the home, Smith said.

Shortly after officers were allowed in the home, a search warrant was signed by Judge Jack Skeen in the 241st District Court.

Kayla’s body was recovered from the well after midnight. Smith County Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace Mitch Shamburger held an inquest at the scene and ordered the body taken to the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences in Dallas for an autopsy.

The male relative was questioned. Smith said he cooperated. 

Smith also confirmed the man is being held in the Smith County Jail on an immigration hold but would not identify him. Smith said an immigration hold would allow officials time to complete their investigation. No bond has been set.

Jail logs indicate a 24-year-old Gustavo Zavala-Garcia was booked into the jail on an immigration hold on Nov. 6. 

According to family member accounts of Kayla's disappearance, Gustavo Zavala-Garcia was said to be one of the last people to have seen her at the church. 

Smith declined to release the suspect's name, but did say he was born in 1992 and is a relative of Kayla. Gustavo  Zavala-Garcia's birthday is listed as July 4, 1992.

Smith also declined to release a motive for the homicide.

Gustavo Zavala-Garcia, 24, is married to a cousin of Kayla. 

In an interview with a reporter Wednesday, his wife, Ester Zavala, said after the service was over Kayla was in the foyer of the church with Ms. Zavala’s 2-year-old daughter. 

Ms. Zavala said she was not at the church that evening, but her daughter and husband, Gustavo, attended the service and were possibly the last people to see Kayla before she disappeared.

Ms. Zavala's husband told her, “Kayla bent down to hug (my daughter) and said, I’ll see you Friday. My husband buckled her up, and said, ‘We’re leaving.’ (Kayla) didn’t come outside. She is scared of the dark. She stayed in the lobby area.”

Court records also show Gustavo Zavala-Garcia was sentenced to 30 days in Smith County Jail in 2014 on a Class A misdemeanor charge of assault causing bodily injury to a family member. He pleaded guilty to pushing, grabbing, striking and kicking his wife.

In Kayla’s case, Smith said additional charges are anticipated for the unnamed man in custody.

“We assure you there will be no stone unturned as we enter the next phase of this investigation,” Smith said. “We will utilize all available assets at the local, state and federal level of law enforcement to see that justice is swift and thorough for Kayla and her family.”

The homicide case would likely be prosecuted in Smith County, under District Attorney Matt Bingham.

Smith said the investigation isn’t complete. There are still people to interview, places to search and a full autopsy to complete.

He thanked the community for doing what they could to help, including volunteering for search parties, sending food and snacks and donating to a reward fund.

That reward fund was not used, but it’s unclear if the money will be returned to the donors or used in future Crime Stopper cases.

The long list of cooperating agencies includes: the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Texas Rangers, Department of Public Safety Highway Patrol and Criminal Investigation Division, Texas Department of Public Safety Air Wing, Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office, Smith County Sheriff’s Office, Bullard Police Department, Tyler Police Department, Texas Parks and Wildlife Game Wardens, Texas Forestry Service, the Tyler Fire Department as well as volunteer fire departments.

Cory McCoy contributed to this report. 

Twitter: @TMTFaith