Sabrina Pina’s loved ones grasped a sliver of hope on Sunday as they waited for the medical examiner to determine whether a body found in a northwest Harris County ditch is that of the 27-year-old who vanished while shopping this weekend.
The Houston woman disappeared Saturday afternoon from a Kohl’s a few miles from her Spring home. Her parents found her pickup, filled with shopping bags, in the parking lot several hours later.
Early Sunday morning, the body of a woman was discovered about a 20-minute drive from the shopping center.
Sheriff’s deputies spoke with some of Pina’s relatives at her home Sunday night after dusting her truck for fingerprints. Her husband and parents met with homicide detectives downtown.
“I don’t know what to think,” said Jeffrey Armenta, one of Pina’s best friends, after speaking with deputies. “It was the middle of the day. She was four miles from home.”
Pina is the second woman to disappear from a Houston suburb in recent weeks. Police are still searching for 37-year-old Susana De Jesus, who was kidnapped three weeks ago in the parking lot of a Pearland women’s clothing store where she worked.
Family members said authorities confirmed Sunday that the body discovered in the ditch doesn’t belong to De Jesus.
Pina was running errands Saturday afternoon when she last spoke to her husband: She called him from Home Depot around noon to ask what kind of garbage disposal to buy. The new disposal remained in the back of her truck on Sunday.
Her family began to worry when Pina didn’t show up for a family function a few hours later, Armenta said. Pina is always prompt and reliable.
The Houston native graduated from Klein High School and the University of Texas. She works in marketing at TXU Energy and is active in her Catholic church, Armenta said.
Her parents went searching in the shopping center they knew she’d gone to; they found her car, along with a receipt that showed she had eaten at the Sonic across the street at 1:30 p.m. Although her shopping bags were still in the truck, her purse and cell phone were not.
Her husband, Edward Pina, knew something was terribly wrong when he saw the abandoned truck, Armenta said.
“When I got there, he couldn’t contain himself. He couldn’t really stand up,” Armenta said.
Close group of friends
Armenta and his wife, who grew up with Sabrina Tolentino Pina and works in the next cubicle at TXU Energy, spend every weekend with the Pinas. The men golf; the women get their nails done. The four of them are best friends, Armenta said.
Armenta and his wife were among the friends and family who spent a sleepless Saturday night printing fliers. They teamed up with Texas EquuSearch Sunday and fanned out from the Kohl’s, searching woods and brush for clues. Armenta helped search, despite feeling like he was in a daze.
“I noticed that, walking through the woods today, I thought, ‘What am I doing here? I can’t be looking for my best friend,”’ he said. “It’s hard to believe any of this is real.”
Ready for the worst
The medical examiner’s office expected to identify the body by this morning, Armenta said, but Pina’s family was already steeling themselves for the worst.
The body discovered at Jack Road near Warren Ranch Road seemed to match Pina’s description: that of a white or Hispanic woman in her late 20s to early 30s. She was wearing a black shirt, blue jeans, white and tan shoes and a white jacket with a hood, authorities said.
Looking into leads
Investigators are looking into all possible leads as to the woman’s identity, including missing-persons reports, said Harris County sheriff’s spokesman Lt. John Legg.
“There (has) been no positive identification made at this time,” he said.
De Jesus’ sister Guilly Puente said they can empathize with the Pina family. Relatives and friends continue to search for De Jesus, who was leaving work on Feb. 2 when a masked man with a pistol forced her into her car.
An hour later, a man was photographed by a security camera at a Houston bank while he used De Jesus’ card to withdraw cash from an ATM. The car was found the next morning in another Houston location, but De Jesus was not, authorities said.
“We’re trying to put my sister’s face in as many people hands as possible,” Puente said. “I’m not giving up hope. I feel it in my heart that she’s still alive and she’s coming home to us soon.’”