A year later in the murder case of Kayla Gomez-Orozco
SMITH COUNTY, TX (KLTV) - Wednesday marks a year since the murder of an East Texas girl who would have celebrated her 11th birthday this year.
Kayla Gomez-Orozco was reported missing Nov. 1, 2016, after a prayer service at Bullard First Assembly Church along Highway 69 in Smith County. Four days later authorities found her body in the bottom of a well on a family member's property. Officials arrested her uncle Gustavo Zavala-Garcia, 24, in connection with the case.
Earlier this month, a judge in the case set a March 19, 2018 trial date for Zavala-Garcia, who is charged with capital murder.
Zavala-Garcia, who is related to Kayla through marriage, was named among those who were the last to see her alive the night she went missing.
At the time of her disappearance, Kayla's family told officers she was last seen sitting by the church entrance. When her mother went to check on her, Kayla was gone.
Authorities were called to the scene. Family members said they searched all the rooms in the church, outside the church and even in a restaurant next door, but there was no sight of her.
As the search continued for Kayla, an AMBER alert was issued the following day. Law enforcement sought aid from volunteers to assist with the ongoing search efforts, which resulted in hundreds of people joining to help.
During that time, members of the Bullard community held vigils to pray for her safety and safe return. Some members described feeling "a lot of mixed emotions" as they continued to puzzle over the case.
It was on Nov. 5, 2016, that the search for Kayla came to a tragic end. At about 6 p.m., officers received a tip about a location that was only a few miles away from where Kayla was last seen.
Authorities worked overnight to obtain a warrant to search the property, where they later found the body of the missing East Texas girl.
A team recovered her body along with two black shoes with sequins and a necklace with a heart pendant.
At the time of the discovery, Smith County District Attorney Matt Bingham described the emotional toll the search took on officials.
"Kayla has become our own daughter, a part of us. We will get justice for Kayla," Bingham said at the time. "It's hard to explain what it's like to see a fireman bringing up the body of a dead 10-year-old and to watch these men and women over here with as much respect and as delicately as they can move that body over, put it on a body bag and begin an investigation."
At the crime scene on FM 2493, swabs were collected from the concrete well lid. Officials also found a white cloth with flowers, a roll of gray duct tape, a shoestring and four gray sleeveless t-shirts.
It was soon discovered that a family member lived at the residence on the property where her body was found inside the well.
The family member and resident of the home, identified as Zavala-Garcia, became the primary suspect in the case of Kayla's murder.
Zavala-Garcia voluntarily accompanied officials for questioning on Nov. 6, 2016. He was later booked into the Smith County Jail and also placed on an immigration detainer.
On Nov. 7, 2016, a capital murder charge was filed against the 24-year-old man from Mexico. Soon after the charge was presented, records showed Zavala-Garcia had a previous charge in 2014 for assaulting a family member.
Zavala-Garcia was indicted in January 2017 and currently remains in the Smith County Jail under a $10 million bond.
Now, a year after Kayla's death, a family awaits answers Zavala-Garcia awaits his March 19, 2018, trial.
Gustavo Zavala-Garcia's next pre-trial is scheduled for next week, Nov. 8, 2017.
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