A family is mourning the death of a beautiful two-year-old boy thanks to the selfish actions of his mother.
At 1:53 PM on Monday, June 1, 35-year-old Laura Jane Sanchez Villalon called 911 to report her son, two-year-old Frankie Gonzalez*, missing. She said that while she and her three children, including two daughters, one slightly older than Frankie and one about four months old, were at Cameron Park, they entered the restroom near the splash pad in Pecan Bottoms. She told police she briefly turned away, and when she turned back, Frankie was gone.
(*Note: The police spelled Frankie’s last name as Gonzales, but the correct spelling is Gonzalez, so I have corrected this post.)
Police in Waco, Texas immediately launched a search for the little boy, who was described via the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) as 2’6” tall, unknown weight, with black hair and brown eyes; he was last seen wearing a red and gray Mickey Mouse shirt, gray Mickey Mouse pants, and black and white Nike shoes.
Waco Police Department officers combed the area of the park, soon to be joined by other agencies, including the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office, Texas Game Wardens, Texas Department of Public Safety, City of Waco Cameron Park Zoo staff, City of Waco Park Rangers, and Department of Family Protective Services. At around 3:00 PM, authorities closed the park entirely. Rescue crews from the Waco Fire Department searched the nearby Brazos River while police spread out throughout the park on foot. The Gatesville unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice brought in bloodhounds to assist in the search. A helicopter was used to search by air.
Although there was no official physical description of a suspect or a vehicle, an AMBER alert was issued around 7:30 PM. Police believed Frankie to be in grave or immediate danger.
Officer Garen Bynum later said, “The Amber Alert was out of precaution just because there was so much unknown, but it was definitely a possibility that he was taken from Cameron Park.”
After several hours of search and rescue efforts, the search for Frankie was suspended at around 9:00 PM, resuming Tuesday morning at 8:00 AM.
While searching took place on Monday, detectives conducted interviews with members of Frankie’s family, attempting to follow every possible lead. Frankie’s mother, Laura, told detectives that Frankie had spent the weekend with her adult son in nearby Killeen, but other members of the family told police that was not true.
After a full-scale search via ground, water, and air, the Texas Department of Public Safety discontinued the Amber Alert for Frankie after Waco Police announced on Tuesday morning that they had discovered the body of a small child in a dumpster. The trash container was located behind the Park Lake Drive Baptist Church, which is less than three miles from the park where Frankie was first reported missing.
“We haven’t been able to confirm that at this time,” said Officer Bynum during a Facebook live video posted by KWTX News 10. “An autopsy will have to actually do the confirmation on that.”
What led police to the dumpster? Well, on Tuesday morning, another family member contacted the Waco Police and told them Laura had confessed. Authorities quickly confronted Laura, who admitted her son was no longer alive and that she had placed his body in a dumpster somewhere around North 27th Street and Park Lake Drive.
Officers accompanied Laura to the area, and she led them to the dumpster near Park Lake Drive and Alice Avenue, where, around 8:00 AM, they found Frankie’s tiny body wrapped in several trash bags inside the receptacle.
Officer Bynum gave a press conference soon afterward, saying police had determined that Frankie was never in the park on June 1 and adding, “Frankie did not die of natural causes.”
He also thanked the community on behalf of Police Chief Frank Gentsch, who was among the first officers on scene when Frankie’s body was discovered, for their assistance in locating Frankie and providing the police department with resources and information. Chief Gentsch also passed along sympathy and condolences for Frankie’s family.
“This is a tragic scene for our community and for our police officers today, too,” Officer Bynam said. “A lot of us are parents, too, and this is just heartbreaking to see, but we will do our absolute best to investigate this fully, like we do every case, for this child.”
Authorities remained in the Park Lake Drive area throughout the day on Tuesday, including SWAT officers assisting with crowd control. A large crowd amassed in the church parking lot as crime scene technicians worked in the neighborhood and police officers comforted bystanders.
Justice of the Peace Dianne Hensley declared Frankie’s death on Tuesday.
The arrest affidavit issued for Laura Sanchez states that she was questioned throughout the day on Monday and even into the night, when she finally confessed to police that she had lied to them several times, including her statement about Frankie spending the weekend with her adult son in Killeen.
According to police, after being Mirandized, Laura told them Frankie was in her sole care and custody when he died on approximately May 28. She also confessed she kept Frankie’s body in her house until about May 30, when she disposed of her toddler son’s body in a dumpster like yesterday’s trash.
On Monday, June 1, likely setting up her alibi, Laura posted a photo on Facebook from inside her vehicle, along with the caption, “On my way to the park with my three lil ones.” The only child visible in the car was her older daughter, who had a pacifier in her mouth and a decidedly worried look on her little face.
Police now believe Frankie had been dead for approximately three days at that point and had already been disposed of prior to the family’s trip to the park. Laura’s car has been impounded.
Laura Jane Sanchez Villalon was arrested on Tuesday, June 2 on suspicion of first degree felony injury to a child with intent to cause serious bodily harm in addition to a parole violation. She is being held in the McLennan County Jail. On Wednesday, her bond was set at $500,000.
Frankie’s sisters were taken into protective custody and placed into foster care. A spokesperson for the Department of Family and Protective Services said they are cooperating in a joint investigation with law enforcement regarding Frankie’s death. This is not the first time CPS has been involved with the family, but that information is confidential by law.
The charge of a parole violation against Laura stems from her prior criminal history. In 2012, she was convicted of burglary of a habitation after breaking into a Waco home to steal a Nintendo Wii and other items. She was sentenced to deferred probation for six years. The deferred probation was revoked in 2015, and she was sentenced at that time to 10 years of probation, which was subsequently revoked in 2017, replaced with a sentence of six years in prison.
Laura was paroled last May. Her parole was scheduled to end in September of 2022. Court records indicate that in January of this year, Laura was booked into McLennan County Jail for unpaid traffic fines, and she currently owes the county over $500. Records also show that her parole officer attempted to contact her twice in the past few months, in March and May, without success.
Due to her incarceration, Frankie’s father, Lorenzo Gonzalez, had custody of the couple’s two older children. It is unclear who fathered her four-month-old daughter, although there are some indications that Laura and Lorenzo were a couple as recently as last September, based on some of their Facebook photos. It has been stated by some sources that Frankie and his older sister were with Laura on visitation when Frankie’s fatal injury occurred.
That injury has not yet been disclosed. I’m sure we’ll learn more once an autopsy is performed and its results released.
A makeshift memorial composed of photos, balloons, and stuffed animals sprang up around the dumpster in the church parking lot where Frankie’s body was discovered. The church, which has asked the city to remove the dumpster, has publicly said that the dumpster will never be used again out of respect to Frankie.
At about 3:00 PM on Wednesday, the church posted the following on its Facebook page:
“We’ve heard some criticism of our decision to have the dumpster, that Frankie Gonzalez was found in, removed from our property. We understand people’s grief towards Frankie’s senseless death, and are touched by the makeshift memorial of balloons and candles left by the community. We, at Park Lake Drive Baptist Church, believe Frankie’s life was precious and made in the image of God. A dumpster does not reflect our value of his life, this is why we have made plans to set up something more permanent at the site of his finding. Phipps Memorial of Waco has donated a granite memorial, and we are in discussion with a local artist to paint a culturally appropriate mural on the side of our garage. We want to thank the City of Waco for being so considerate in moving the dumpster with sensitivity to those mourning Frankie’s death and our neighbors who have been traumatized by such a horrible act that took place right outside their homes.”
Candlelight vigils were organized on Tuesday night, both in Cameron Park and in the Park Lake Baptist Church parking lot.
At the church vigil, more than 200 people gathered in the parking lot, lighting candles and shedding tears for Frankie. The church’s senior pastor, Amos Humphries, as well as other members of the church, prayed together, asking the crowd to turn to God.
“When many of you heard Frankie was missing, you were concerned,” he said. “Many of you ran to the park to look. You shared posts on social media to rally the community and the community rallied together and I think that is what is so shocking.
“We were all looking for a different outcome, or something that was positive and that didn’t happen but I want to assure you the fact that we are here together, the fact that we rallied together, bonded together over this, that is positive.”
Members of Frankie’s family attended the church memorial, wearing t-shirts bearing Frankie’s image.
At the Cameron Park vigil, hundreds of balloons were released into the sky in memory of the slain boy with the big brown eyes. I just posted a PSA about balloon releases this morning; while it’s a beautiful gesture and heartwarming to see the community come together to remember this little boy, there are a multitude of less deadly and environmentally damaging ways to do it. I’m only mentioning it here in the hopes that when the next tragic death occurs, those wishing to memorialize the departed will choose an equally celebratory but much less damaging ritual.
Phillip Dunn, managing partner of Bubba’s 33 restaurant in Waco, offered to honor Frankie by having the restaurant assist the family with the cost of the little boy’s funeral.
“We hope that through this donation we will be a small part in creating a memorial that will honor this precious boy for many years to come,” Phillip said on Facebook.
Wolfe Florist in Waco will be donating flowers for Frankie’s casket. His funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.
Not much information has been released about who Frankie was, but he certainly seemed like a cheerful, chatty little guy in this Facebook live video posted by his mother.
Rest in peace, baby boy. You will never be forgotten.
Click here to read my continuing coverage of Frankie’s case.
Sources: KRIS 6 News, Big Country Homepage, KSAT, 25 ABC, CBSN Dallas-Ft. Worth, KWTX, The Waco Tribune-Herald, Fox 4 News, Facebook