Katharhynn Heidelberg

MONTROSE - For Rick Sungaila, the nightmare is two years old to the day - and he believes he knows who's responsible for the incredible act of savagery that robbed him and his wife Dotty of their daughter, Irene Trujillo.

"Somebody knows something," he said in a telephone interview. "Two years. Two years."

Trujillo, a Montrose businesswoman, was reported missing April 11, 2003. Her body was found that June by workers installing a water hydrant at Montrose Stone, the business Trujillo owned with her former husband, Rick.

Forensic examination determined Trujillo, 47, died of a gunshot wound and that her body was mutilated and burned with accelerants before being dumped in a shallow grave and encased in concrete.

Her murder remains unsolved. Lionel Lopez, an employee at Montrose Stone, subsequently was convicted of burgling her home, but denied any involvement in her death and has not been charged.

"You work on homicides and all of the sudden it happens to you," Sungaila, a former detective in Arapahoe County, said. "Its like a living nightmare."

Though police believe Trujillo was last seen alive April 9, 2003, Sungaila is convinced his daughter died April 8 that year. He said he had documentation proving "the incident and the motive occurred April 8."

Police previously said Trujillo was last seen around 6:30 p.m. April 9, after Lopez took her home from a therapy session.

But Sungaila believes his daughter met with her killer or killers April 8. "They couldn't let her live another day. After a meeting, she stated what she was going to do and they couldn't let her live another day," he said.

"(Now) the Pope is being buried the same day," Sungaila said. "It makes me feel weird. How? They're both gone forever."

Sungaila has a suspect in mind and said he was frustrated with how local authorities have handled the investigation into his daughter's murder.

"We know who the murderers are," he said, but would not provide names. He said a minimum of four people had told him about their involvement in the crime, but when he shared this information with investigators, "I got excuses. What they said was not true. That's when you feel you want to give up. ŠI won't give up. I know."

The Montrose County Sheriff's Office is handling the case, with assistance from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. Sheriff Warren Waterman said Wednesday that the Trujillo homicide is still being actively worked and that officers are investigating "persons of interest."

Because of the ongoing nature of the case, he could not comment on a likely motive or divulge other details, including those that might specifically address Sungaila's contentions.

In general, however, homicides get top priority at the MCSO, while other crimes, such as assaults, domestic violence and thefts are assigned to investigations based on the severity of offense.

"Some cases take quite a bit of time," Waterman said, pointing to the 1990 homicide of Carolyn Kurtz that took five years to bring to justice and to the 1993 slaying of Buffy Rice Donohue. Donohue's murder remains officially unsolved, though the top suspect has since been convicted of other homicides in Nevada, where he is on Death Row.

Waterman said his office considers all leads offered in Trujillo's death. "Sometimes, cases just take longer. We still have some evidence to be processed and we're always open to leads," he said. "Any lead, no matter who it comes from, we look into it. And we don't consider leads (from the public) as interference."

Sungaila said plenty of leads came his way after he offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of Trujillo's killer, but law enforcement hadn't acted on that information yet.

He declined to specify the information, because he did not want to jeopardize the investigation. "I've got to have a little trust in them (investigators)," he said. "I know they've got to do what they've got to do. ŠI am not just a 'distraught father.'"

Sungaila also remained angry over having his reward money declined by Crime Stoppers locally. Montrose Police Department Cmdr. Tom Chinn told the Daily Press last September that Crime Stoppers is unable to accept money to focus on a particular crime.

That's not how things work in Sungaila's hometown of Littleton. He said Crime Stoppers there would have simply added the $10,000 to its standard $2,000 reward and publicized his daughter's case. However, Littleton Crime Stoppers was unable to handle a Montrose case, he said he was told.

Sungaila's private investigation also provided surprising information about Trujillo herself.

"I found there were two daughters, one that she portrayed around us and a lively little girl away from us," he said, declining to elaborate beyond saying she had "growing pains " and learned too late.

"She saw the error of everything. That's probably what helped get her killed. They couldn't let her live another day."

Sungaila broke down while talking about the plucky daughter who loved the mountains and her businesses too much to leave them, despite prescient fears for her personal safety.

"Making her businesses work and raising her children - they were both top priority, because it was a hard road for her," he said. "It wasn't easy for her."

He and her friends all "begged" her to leave Montrose. "She said, 'I worked too hard for what I got up here.' But at the same time, she told me, 'Dad, if I'm ever murdered, this person did it' (sic). I think he really did, because all the evidence points toward him," said Sungaila.

The family is relying on help from the public and Sungaila thanked the numerous businesses that have allowed him to distribute approximately 2,000 cards and posters that appeal for information.

He said only the guilty could accuse him of publicizing the matter too much.

"If someone gets tired of seeing thisŠwell, only the guilty would feel that. I got to bed with it every night and wake up with it every morning.

"She was shot. She was butchered. She was burnedŠburied in concrete. I met who Irene said was going to do it and I couldn't do anything."

Contact Katharhynn Heidelberg via e-mail at katharhynnh@montrosepress.com

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