Minerliz Soriano left her apartment early on the morning of Wednesday, February 24, 1999, so she could catch the bus to school. The 13-year-old, who lived in the Bronx borough of New York City, was a seventh-grade student at Frank D. Whelan Middle School; although her attendance was somewhat spotty, she was an excellent student and maintained a straight-A average. On this day, she attended all of her classes as scheduled. When the school day ended at 2:20 pm, she waved goodbye to her friends and told them she was going to pick up her younger sister, Nadia, from a nearby elementary school.
Minerliz would normally meet Nadia at her school and then walk with her to a bus stop at the intersection of Pelham Parkway and White Plains Road. The sisters would then ride the bus to the Eastchester Road stop and then walk to their apartment from there.
When Nadia got out of class, she expected her older sister to be waiting for her but saw no sign of her. She waited around for a few minutes before deciding that Minerliz wasn’t going to show up. Nadia, who was just 7 years old, then realized that she was going to have to make her own way home. The 30-minute trip home seemed to take longer without her sister, but Nadia managed to make it home without any problems.
Minerliz and Nadia lived with their mother, Minerva Sepeda, and her husband, Ray Roblez, who was Nadia’s father and Minerliz’s stepfather. When Nadia arrived home without her older sister, her parents were immediately concerned. Minerliz was extremely responsible for her age and was very protective of her younger sister. It was unlike her to fail to pick her sister up from school.
Fearing that something must have happened to Minerliz, her family immediately began searching around the city for her. They went to her school first, then checked several other locations where they thought the teenager might have gone, but they were unable to find her. They continued their search for a few hours before deciding that they needed to get the police involved.
Minerva called the New York City Police Department at 7:00 pm and reported her daughter missing. Although an officer was sent to their apartment to take a missing person report, the department seemed to dismiss the idea that Minerliz had run into foul play. They assured Roy and Minerva that Minerliz was likely just out with friends and would return home when she was ready.
Although Minerliz’s family tried to convince the police that she wasn’t the kind of teenager who would go off with her friends without calling home, the police remained unconvinced and made no attempts at locating the missing girl.
The family had lived in the same Bronx apartment building for about two years and Minerliz was well-known to the other residents. None of them believed that Minerliz had simply run off on her own and they volunteered to help her family search for her. They hung her picture up in the lobby of the apartment building and asked all residents to be on the lookout for her. Unfortunately, she seemed to have vanished without a trace.
The search for Minerliz came to a tragic end that Sunday, when a homeless man made a horrific discovery in a dumpster behind the Hollywood Video store on Bartow Avenue. As he went through the trash looking for any salvageable items, he noticed that one of the black plastic trash bags appeared to be much heavier than the rest. When he tore it open, he was shocked to see the bruised and battered body of a teenage girl.
The medical examiner determined that Minerliz had been strangled to d*eath; he listed the official cause of de*ath as compression to the neck. He noted that it appeared that she had been placed in a chokehold, leaving her little chance to fend off her attacker. There were no defensive wounds on her body, indicating that she had been quickly overpowered. Her body was fully clothed when found and she had not been sexually assaulted.
Roy and Minerva were overcome with grief when they were notified of Minerliz’s d*eath. Minerva broke down into tears and appeared to be inconsolable, while Roy said he couldn’t imagine why anyone would have wanted to hurt his stepdaughter. He told a neighbor that he had raised Minerliz since shortly after she was born and loved her as if she were his own daughter.
Detectives immediately began interviewing Minerliz’s relatives, neighbors, and friends, hoping that someone might be able to shed some light on why she might have been targeted for mur*der. Everyone they spoke with appeared to be in shock; they all described Minerliz as a wonderful young woman who had no known enemies.
Although Minerliz was frequently absent from school, she was highly intelligent and never caused problems. She was an excellent student who served as a peer mediator and liked to read and write poetry; she also enjoyed playing volleyball with her friends. Neighbors told detectives that they often saw the teenager riding her bicycle or roller skating near her apartment building. Although she was bubbly and outgoing when she was with her friends, she was quiet and more reserved around people she didn’t know.
Investigators learned that Minerliz had last been seen leaving school on Wednesday afternoon. At the time, she had been wearing a red ski jacket and carrying her black Jantzen backpack; neither of these items had been recovered with her body, indicating that robbery could have been the motive for her mur*der.
Despite interviewing residents of the area and Minerliz’s classmates, detectives were unable to find anyone who had seen the teenager after she left her school for the final time. Investigators appealed to the public for help, asking anyone who believed they might have seen Minerliz that day to call them. Unfortunately, they received few calls about the case. Minerliz’s trail appeared to end immediately after she left her middle school.
Minerliz’s family and friends gathered at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Bedford-Stuyvesant to say goodbye to the mu*rdered teenager. Oddly, her mother and stepfather failed to attend her funeral. Minerliz’s father, Luis Soriano, noted that the pair had also been no-shows at his daughter’s wake. Those who were in attendance struggled to understand why Roy and Minerva were absent.
Friends and neighbors weren’t the only ones who found Minerva and Roy’s absence to be somewhat suspicious. Investigators started to take a closer look at the family to see if perhaps they might have had some involvement in the teenager’s murd*er. Although they found no direct evidence to support this theory, neighbors did tell them that Minerliz’s home life had been less than ideal.
Residents who lived near the family noted that Minerliz seemed to bear a lot of responsibility for a 13-year-old. She was often seen walking or riding her bicycle to a small 24-hour deli three blocks away, where she would buy prepared meals and other grocery items for her parents. Some neighbors stated that the teenager always appeared to be doing chores; she would clean, take out the garbage, and do the family’s laundry. She was also frequently left in charge of her younger sister.
A few neighbors told detectives that they often saw Minerliz running to the deli late at night; they didn’t believe the area was safe enough for someone so young to be out so late. Despite their concerns, none of the residents had ever tried to speak to Roy or Minerva about the situation. By all accounts, Minerliz was very mature for her age and she never complained about any of the chores she was expected to complete.
The principal of Minerliz’s middle school told investigators that Minerliz had been seen crying at school the day before she disappeared but it was unclear what had caused her to be upset. Some of her friends would later infer that Minerliz had been the victim of sexual assault at the hands of her stepfather, but detectives were unable to verify their claims. Minerliz never directly accused Roy of anything and he was never charged with any crime. Still, the fact that he and Minerva had skipped Minerliz’s funeral caused many to wonder if there had been any truth behind these claims.
Despite their best efforts, detectives admitted that they had been unable to develop any substantial leads in the case. They made several appeals to the public for help in locating Minerliz’s red ski jacket and black backpack; they noted that it was possible these items contained vital clues that could lead to the murd*erer. Unfortunately, neither item was ever recovered.
A few months after the mu*rder, officials announced that they were offering an $11,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the ki*ller. A few new tips were received but none of them brought detectives any closer to identifying the murd*erer. The investigation stalled and eventually went cold.
There has been little progress made on the case over the years, but Minerliz’s father has never lost hope that the person who ki*lled his daughter will one day be brought to justice. Along with Minerliz’s friends and other family members, Luis Soriano hopes that new advances in DNA technology might finally help investigators solve the case.
Minerliz Soriano was just 13 years old when she was mur*dered in the Bronx in 1999. She was a sweet and studious girl who got excellent grades and had a bright future ahead of her. Her life was stolen from her before she really had a chance to live, and her ki*ller has never been identified. Her friends and family have been waiting more than two decades to obtain justice for Minerliz. If you have any information about her mu*rder, please contact Crime Stoppers at 800–577–8477.