Families of missing UI student, recent graduate bond over similar tragedies

Families of missing UI student, recent graduate bond over similar tragedies

By Charlotte Collins

Julieta LaMalfa does not believe her brother, Vicente Mundo, would disappear without any warning.

Mundo, a junior majoring in statistics and a member of Theta Chi fraternity, was last seen around 7 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 25 in the 900 block of S. Third Street. He was leaving a friend’s apartment to meet another friend.

LaMalfa said she believes the body of a male found alongside a road in Tolono Township on Saturday morning is her brother.

The Champaign County Sheriff’s Office said the autopsy for the body is scheduled for Monday. A missing persons report for Mundo was filed Tuesday, Jan. 27.

“I hate to give up hope,” said LaMalfa. “I know that my brother wouldn’t have left voluntarily, which is why, with everything I know, that I can feel it in my heart that they did find him.”

LaMalfa said her brother was happy to attend the University and is a determined individual.

“He loved being here, he loved Champaign,” LaMalfa said. “He was the first in our family to go away for school, and he was just loving the experience.”

Though LaMalfa described Mundo as an ambitious person with high academic goals, LaMalfa said her brother always had a childlike gentleness about him.

“He was always so protected by his friends because he had this little innocence about him. He was always so behind the curve in terms of his friends and growing up,” LaMalfa said.

The last time LaMalfa heard from her brother was the morning of his disappearance. The night before, he had rented a movie, and his sister texted him around 10 a.m. asking, “Was it good?” He responded saying the movie was disappointing.

“Please remember him as someone who is very kind, very loving, very innocent, full of life, full of hope, and that he had a great experience here,” LaMalfa said.

UI graduate still missing

Mundo is the second person reported missing in Champaign in January. Cristian Zamora, a recent 2014 University graduate, was last seen on New Year’s Eve.

Zamora was planning on ending his employment at Jimmy John’s to focus on other work.

Jeannie Douglas, Zamora’s aunt, said she believes he was determined to finish writing his book and that leaving unannounced would not have made sense given how vocal she said he was about his future plans.

“He had already given notice that he was going to quit because that was just a temporary thing just to get by,” Douglas said. “He was going to dedicate full-time until April to his book and by then it’d be edited and published.”

Douglas has been working with Zamora’s mother, Sandra Carrion, in her efforts to find her son over the past month. Carrion recalls her son talking about his book plans the last time she spoke with him on Dec. 29.

“He was so happy,” Carrion said. “He was telling me like ‘Oh, one more week at Jimmy John’s, I’m going to write this book, you’re going to be in my book. You’ll see, it’s going to be a surprise.’”

Carrion said leads have gone cold, and there is little evidence to help track down her son.

“We’re still in Dec. 31 at 8 at night. That’s it. We don’t know nothing else. We need to know something, good or bad. Just tell me something. Show me something.”

Families join together for support

The two families have formed a support system for each other in the similar situations they were both forced into around the same time. Zamora’s family reached out to Mundo’s after hearing of the other disappearance in Champaign.

“I don’t ever want anyone to have to go through what I have of course, but if this is going to help anyone else find their loved ones, I want some of the attention on (Zamora’s family) right now,” LaMalfa said.

LaMalfa believes that the search is likely over for her brother, but maintains hope for Zamora’s family.

“I asked (Zamora’s family) to still stay because I think it’s important to keep looking for him,” LaMalfa said. “Nobody should have to go through this. I take it as giving back for the way everyone has been so wonderful for us.”

LaMalfa said she would be able to find some peace if the body found were her brother’s.

“My biggest worry was always that he was suffering,” LaMalfa said. “And if this is him, at least I know he’s not suffering.”

Zamora’s mother agreed.

“That’s what we think day after day.”

Charlotte can be reached at [email protected].