Diana Zacarias: A role model daughter and student
On March 31, Diana Zacarías, a 22-year-old from Natchitoche, Louisiana, arrived in Arizona to make a dream come true: visit the Grand Canyon.
From the very beginning, it seemed an adventure that wasn’t meant to be.
"Her plane broke down and she could not leave," says her father Alejandro Zacarias to Univision Arizona. She is a role model daughter. I saw the excitement she had about planning this trip, buying her hiking boots and clothing. When she found out that her plane could not leave, I felt her frustration, and I drove her to another city so she could take another plane and not miss her tour."
He never imagined that it was the last time he would see his daughter.
Originally from Michoacan, Mexico, Alejandro Zacarías described his daughter as quiet, studious, and a perfectionist. Zacarias was a junior industrial engineering student at the Northwestern State University of Louisiana, where she won recognition for her academic excellence.
"My daughter is an angel, always at home with us. She was a very quiet girl. She did not have much of social life, always very studious. She got straight A’s in college," says the father.
According to him, Zacarias contacted her family by phone Thursday, March 31, from her hotel in Flagstaff. Her plan was to go to the Grand Canyon the next day. After her visit she updated her profile picture on Facebook in which she appears smiling at the Grand Canyon.
"She took a tour on Friday and visited the places, all was perfect. At night, she took the shuttle back (to Flagstaff ) . On Friday night she communicated with us from the hotel and said she had returned. She told us her plans to go hiking the next morning," recalls her father.
Zacarías wanted to return to the Grand Canyon that Saturday. Her mother reminded her that she had to be on time at the airport that same date for her 5:30 p.m. flight from Flagstaff back to Louisiana.
According to her parents, Diana made two transactions with her credit card that day: one to pay Arizona Shuttle for a ride to the Grand Canyon at 7:45 a.m. and another at the park’s store where she bought a t-shirt.
“She made it to the Grand Canyon that Saturday. She took the time to take photos and video of it. She looked so beautiful, I felt so proud of my daughter," says Alejandro Zacarías, sobbing.
Happiness to see their daughter exploring the world suddenly became the family’s worst nightmare.
“Dianita, are you already on your way to the airport?” wrote her mother via text message.
“No, I am not going," she replied without any explanation.
At that moment, her parents thought that perhaps she had changed her plans and decided to stay a few more days. When they tried to call her to inquire about those new plans, they were not able to reach her. All calls went to voicemail.
"We thought that the battery of her phone had died. On Sunday, we were waiting for her message, and nothing. She never expressed she wanted to leave home," says her father, who says he has no idea what could have happened. "I hope she decided to conquer the world and one day she will return to us.”
They called the park that same day to report the disappearance of their daughter to the authorities. That night, around 7 p.m., the horrified couple embarked on a journey of more than 20 hours, driving from Louisiana to Arizona.
“We arrived in Flagstaff on Monday around 5 p.m. and we went to the airport. Diana never checked in with the airline and never changed the reservation," says her father.” I don’t know if my daughter got lost or had an accident. I don’t want to think that someone kidnapped her. Maybe she was adventuring and got lost."
The park rangers started an intense search and rescue operation by land and air on Wednesday, April 3, while her parents also searched.
“We rented a helicopter. We placed pictures of her around. We screamed her name all week long," her father says.
According to a statement from the National Park Service, Zacarías arrived at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon on a bus that dropped her off at Maswick hotel, and she visited Yaki Point and Lookout Studio. The authorities also traced her telephone and focused the search on the area where her cell signal was recorded for the last time.
Univision Arizona contacted the police detective in Flagstaff who communicated with Diana’s parents. The detective said Grand Canyon authorities were in charge, because that's where the girl disappeared.
When contacted about the status of the search, National Park Service spokeswoman Emily Davis responded with very limited information. "It's an ongoing investigation," Davis says. "The search for Diana is in continuous but limited mode." Rangers and pilots would continue to search for clues when visiting the area, she adds.
The National Park Service does not have a database of people who have disappeared in the Grand Canyon.
“It is a huge area. About 5.5 million visitors. We can’t keep track (of all disappearances)," explains the spokeswoman.
From 2015 to date, there are two other ongoing investigations of missing people in the Grand Canyon: a river tour guide and a tourist who visited the South Rim.
During their last visit, the rangers interviewed Diana’s parents and took samples to do DNA tests in the future.
Almost a month after her disappearance, there is no trace of Diana, but a new clue has been found by the parents at their home.
"My wife was checking her notes and found a written itinerary in which she had planned to do a hike in the Bright Angel Trail on the second day of her trip and visit the Havasupai tribe," says the father who has not lost hope.
Although it is a new clue that could lead to her whereabouts, this new information also generates a lot of questions. The two places are not only far away from each other but they are administered by two completely different entities.
The Bright Angel trail is located at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, descending about 4,380 feet down to the Colorado River. It is about 8 miles long each way.
The National Park Service has no jurisdiction in the territory as it is administered by the tribe. A permit is needed to enter the land, and must be processed months in advance.
“We are waiting for a miracle. Our lives end without our daughter. It is a profound pain in our bleeding hearts," says Alejandro.
She is about 5’2’’ tall, slim and last seen wearing a pink hat, a purple sweater and glasses.
If you have seen her or have any information about Diana's case, call Silent Witness at 928-638-7840.