Kayla Gomez-Orozco wasn’t there to make sure her older brother, Kenneth Gomez, got up for work Thursday morning, as she has done every day for as long as he can remember.
The house is quiet now. Ten-year-old Kayla went missing during a church service Tuesday. More than two dozen people were inside the sanctuary, many of them family, while Kayla was said to be playing with other kids in the lobby area.
Kenneth is 10 years older than his baby sister, and he has become the family’s de facto spokesman.
He remembers the day their parents brought Kayla home from the hospital.
“I remember she had her eyes open already, very aware,” he said. “I could just sense this is going to be a great baby. She’s going to be smart.”
Her brothers, Kenneth and Christopher, are Kayla’s best friends. Whatever they were doing, she’s never been far behind.
“We thought it was amazing, we were grown up by then and it brought a spark into our home.”
The boys gained a constant companion - one who thinks they are the world.
“She loves being with her brothers. When I come home, she asks if we can play. If I tell her no, I’m tired, I’ve got to do this,’ she says after that, ‘Can we play?’” he said. “If she’s not trying to play with me or my brother, she’s in the kitchen with my mom.”
Kayla loves learning to cook. Her mother is her idol, Kenneth said. She wants to be right there with her baking cookies for family.
“She loves being here at home,” Kenneth said. “She’s not very demanding. She gets pleased pretty easy.”
At school, Kayla is studious. This bright, happy 10-year-old is every bit as smart as Kenneth expected.
He was surprised when she became aware of money. Most children would ask for change for candy when they realize the value of a dollar.
“She doesn’t do that,” he said. “She would ask for a random dollar or two, and I would ask her why do you need it? She would say, ‘I’m saving for the book fair.’”
He always knows when it’s time for the book fair. Kayla comes excitedly asking for money, insisting he come with her as she chooses a new favorite book.
“It’s just the way she is. She’s so special.”
In the morning, it is Kayla who rushes everyone out the door. While their mother continues to get everyone ready, Kayla is already getting in the car, telling her they’ll be late if she doesn’t hurry up.
She wants to get to school. She wants to see her friends and sing and do cartwheels and go to her favorite class - theater.
“She was trying it all,” he said. “She’s definitely not afraid, and she’s confident in herself.”
Kayla already has plans, just in case she doesn’t make the cut for choir.
“She told me recently she wanted to learn how to play the guitar,” he said. “She wanted me to teach her. I told her, ‘I don’t really know guitar, but I can figure it out.’”
Kenneth was waiting to see if she changed her mind, as children always do, but he is already considering putting a guitar under the tree this Christmas.
He would do anything for his little sister - a little girl who cares so much about her family that she tries to fix their problems when they are sad.
She wants them to be just as happy as she is all the time.
He said Kayla wants to be a doctor, like their aunt, when she grows up.
“She’s a really happy girl. She’s really joyful all the time,” Kenneth’s girlfriend, Jazmine Aguilar, said. “In the 10 years I’ve known her, I’ve only seen her cry a couple of times.”
Jazmine stood nearby, patiently waiting as Kenneth spoke for the family, occasionally reminding him about a detail or two.
“The house doesn’t have as much life right now,” Kenneth said. “Kayla is the life of it.”
Kayla has left a void. Friends and relatives come and check on the family, which is weary trying to help the FBI and media get information out to find their baby girl.
“Are you protective of your sister?” Kenneth is asked.
After a pause, he responds.
“I tried,” he replies, looking away for the first time during the interview.
Throughout the interview, Kayla’s father, Efrain, sits nearby, his eyes red and weary, as he listens to Kenneth give an interview.
For what must feel like the thousandth time, Kenneth pleads for help bringing his sister home.