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Editorial: Park homicide more haunting than most

Every homicide is tragic and memorable, especially for a small community like Clovis, which seldom sees more than two or three a year.

But last week’s stabbing death of Ariel Ulibarri is more haunting than most.

The 23-year-old mother of two wasn’t attacked in a bar; she was on a walking trail in a city park on a Sunday morning with her 6-year-old son.

She had no violent criminal past.

She volunteered at her children’s elementary school.

She shared her life’s little dramas with friends on Facebook.

She worked at a barbecue place until it closed a few weeks ago, and was ready to start a new job last Monday at a coffee shop.

Not all of us knew the young lady, but all of us know somebody just like her … focused on family, looking to catch a break and make a better life for herself, falling asleep nights watching TruTV.

Police said they don’t have any suspects in her slaying. They said they’re not sure if she knew her attacker. They’ve released almost no information, citing an “ongoing investigation,” for reasons they’ve not explained.

That lack of communication is one reason Ulibarri’s family is publicly criticizing law enforcement. The secrecy with which police have conducted the investigation contributes to the haunting.

Leanna Montano, Ulibarri’s sister, has gone on national television and given local interviews questioning police skill levels. Why, she asked on Thursday, have investigators not bothered to go through Ariel’s things at her home in search of clues? Why won’t they answer family members’ questions about leads they have, or don’t have? And most significant, why did Montano and her parents find a bloody knife near the site where Ariel was killed, hours after police had removed the crime-scene tape and reopened the park to visitors?

It’s the knife that has attracted the most attention.

Are police so incompetent they couldn’t find the murder weapon sticking out of the ground near the girl’s body? Or was it planted as some kind of sick joke after the tragedy? Or was it placed there for the family to find by someone who wanted to divert attention from the real clues?

Police won’t say. And that’s not all they won’t say.

Our newspaper sent more than three dozen questions to investigators last week, ranging from Ulibarri’s relationship with her former fiancé who’s jailed on manslaughter charges, to whether agencies outside Curry County are involved in the investigation, to whether Ulibarri drove or walked or rode a bike to the park. Police answered none of them.

They didn’t want to jeopardize the ongoing investigation, they said.

Time will tell if police are being responsibly cautious or trying to cover up embarrassing mistakes they’ve made, but this much we know already:

We all need to be aware of our surroundings all the time, even in broad daylight in a city park with our kids. Secrecy does nothing to suggest to a crime victim’s family that police know what they’re doing. And we all know somebody like Ariel Ulibarri, and our hearts are breaking for those who loved her.

Unsigned editorials are the opinion of the Clovis Media Inc. editorial board, which includes Editor David Stevens and Publisher Robert Arrowsmith.