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Investigating cold cases across the Coachella Valley

Coachella Valley Cold Cases

COACHELLA VALLEY, Calif.- - The clipped codes that crackle over police scanners often translate to a brutal murder. Police may solve the case within the month, but sometimes, despite dozens of witnesses and thousands of manhours, the trail goes cold. And the case can feel lost to time.

One cold case in particular comes to mind this time of year.

The woman who was shot while eight and half months pregnant has never shown her face on camera, but three years after the shooting that left her boyfriend and unborn baby dead, she's decided to go on camera to make her plea. 
"I may smile, I may laugh, but inside I'm hurting," said Roxanne Cerda, who was shot at three years ago. 

Cerda said she relives the murders every time she sleeps and that the nightmares get worse this time of year.  

"I can't celebrate the holidays like I used to because I'll always think about the time that I lost my son," Cerda said.

About a week before Christmas in 2015, Cerda was with her boyfriend, David Chavez, enjoying the dazzling lights of Candy Cane Lane in Cathedral City.

The dozens of homes, decked out in their neon best, is a beloved neighborhood tradition and a holiday favorite among locals. 

But the more breathtaking the street becomes, the more the traffic reflects it. Cathedral City Police say100,000 to 500,000 cars can pass through the area every holiday season. It was apparent road rage that led to a confrontation between Cerda's boyfriend and another man in an SUV.

Police say a couple streets away, the killer shot her boyfriend multiple times, then turned the gun on her. 

"My very last words to David was, 'Oh my God, David, I'm shot too,'" Cerda said. "David just turned to try to walk toward me, and as he tried to walk toward me, he collapsed on the floor and died."

On the third anniversary of the murders, police have exhausted all leads. 

 "It completely ruined people's lives and just devastated some families' lives that are still devastated from this," said Commander Paul Herrera with the Cathedral City Police Department.

It's a case police say they've worked on tirelessly with all scientific resources and other agencies and at this point, will need something new from the public to move forward.

"Maybe it might make somebody think that the info they have about something might be useful to us. Maybe there was something they saw that may be useful, but maybe somebody knows something, and maybe it's time they come forward and talk to us," Herrera said.

The sketch of the suspected gunman still has not yielded any viable leads.

Chavez's murder remains one of dozens of unsolved murders across the Coachella Valley over the past five years. 

At least 40 cases have gone cold since 2013.

In the past few years, overall homicide numbers in the area have gone down.

By the numbers over the last five years, desert cities vary.

  • In Palm Springs from 2013-present, 16 homicide cases have been solved, while two remain open.
  • In Desert Hot Springs from 2013-present, 13 have been solved, and 29 remain open. 
  • In Indio 2013-present, nine have been solved, and 27 remain open.
  • In Cathedral City 2014 - present, 6 have been solved and 11 remain open

While most departments saw an improvement in closed homicide cases, Desert Hot Springs more than doubled their rate of solving crime from 2016 on, a feat they attribute to a new chief, more staff, and social media presence.

"I think people saw the police department not as this closed shop but as open and you're able to get information in and out rather than maybe in past years where we seemed closed off," Deputy Chief Jim Henson with Desert Hot Springs.

"Those programs that we're doing where we're really seeing the community embracing its law enforcement agencies, and in turn, the law enforcement officers are embracing the community so when you have that type of collaboration, and you have that community, you are gonna see a reduction in crime," said Sgt. Dan Marshall, a PIO with the Indio Police Department.

But outreach can only go so far. 

Despite the chance to help bring a killer to justice, some witnesses still choose to stay hidden. 

Police say people may not talk for several reasons, whether it's fear of retaliation, fear of deportation, mistrust or misunderstanding of police, and an unwillingness to get involved.

it's why there's been no justice for 33-year-old Jimmy Rerones, killed at an Indio apartment complex shooting.

Or for Emanuel Jenkins, whose body was found in front of a Desert Hot Springs restaurant in 2017.

Or for the young boy murdered outside a trailer home in Indio this past October.

As Cerda pleads with the public, she says there's someone specifically she's urging to come forward -- woman in shadow, who sat in the passenger seat next to the killer that night. 

"My son saved my life because I was pregnant. He took the bullet for me. No baby should ever, ever take a bullet for anybody," said Cerda. 

With christmas now a time of mourning, Cerda's hoping this is the year she'll finally find closure for Chavez and the baby she named Atreyu -- the son who gave his life for hers.

All police departments are reminding people that they will never ask for your immigration status.

If you have information on any unsolved murders -- no matter how old -- you can give information to Crimestoppers without revealing your identity at 760-341-STOP. If the information leads to an arrest, you can earn a reward of $1,000 or more, depending on the case. 

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