‘I will do everything I can to find you.’ As mother frets over missing son, LAPD investigates
Every time he left the house, Juan Carlos Hernández stayed in touch with his loved ones. After leaving work, as he made his way home, he would text his mother and younger brother: “Have you eaten? Want something? I’m going to stop and buy tacos.”
A week ago, after finishing work for the day, he once again sent a message, saying that he was coming home. But he never got there — and no one knows what happened to him.
“Juan never gave me a reason to worry,” his mother, Yajaira Hernández, said. “My heart as a mother tells me that he’s out there somewhere, that he’s waiting for us to find him. But my mind is making me think the worst because he hasn’t communicated with any of us.”
The 21-year-old is a student at El Camino College with a semester left to go before transferring to USC, where he plans to study engineering. He has played sports since before college, and teammates and other friends have taken to posting on social media in the hopes of getting information about his whereabouts.
His mother said he was last seen Sept. 22.
Det. O. Cansino of the LAPD’s Missing Persons Unit said Thursday that the case has been moved to the department’s Robbery-Homicide Unit .
“They took over the investigation pretty much the next day because of the suspicious circumstances surrounding the disappearance,” he said.
Cansino would not elaborate but said those circumstances were known from “day one, day two of the investigation.”
“At Missing Persons, we don’t handle anything criminal,” he said. “Once there’s any criminal aspect to the investigation, it’s going to go to a detective division that handles the criminal aspect of it.”
In a news release Thursday, LAPD officials said Hernández was last seen wearing a black Vans T-shirt with a white “66” on the back, black shorts, black-and-white checkered socks and black shoes. He had a light gray backpack and hoodie in his possession.
They asked anyone with information about the case to contact the Robbery-Homicide Division at (213) 486-6840 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hernández said her son was called Cookie by friends and family. He didn’t have a car. When he was last seen, he was driving a 2020 Honda Civic he had borrowed from his mother. Two of his best friends saw him just before 3 p.m., when his work shift at a marijuana dispensary started.
A few minutes before his shift ended around 10 p.m., he sent a text message telling his mother he would see her at home. But early the next morning, about 5:30 a.m., she noticed he wasn’t around. When she went outside, the car was not there.
“All of my calls went to his voicemail,” she said.
When Hernández called his workplace, a security guard told her that her son had left just after 10 p.m., like the other employees. Worried, she called the Los Angeles Police Department’s Southwest station.
On Thursday, the Honda Civic was found about 2:30 a.m. a few miles from where her son worked.
“The car was intact,” a surprised Hernández said. She said money that had been left inside the car was still there, but none of her son’s belongings were. “Everything was in the car. But there was no sign that my son had even been driving it.”
Hernández said she has been heartened by support from the community. She described her son as a homebody who likes to sit, covered in a blanket, and play “League of Legends” online with his friends.
She said that he also likes to jog and that when he was in the 10th grade, he ran in his first marathon. He joined several groups that jogged around the streets of L.A.
He spent six years studying robotics in the Neighborhood Academic Initiative program, which was run by USC. It’s what inspired him to pursue engineering as a career, his mother said.
Hernández said she finds herself reflecting on how attentive and affectionate her son is. Sometimes, she said, he would miss work to take his mother to the doctor; he worried about her, especially when she struggled with bouts of depression.
“He was always very attentive, careful — always supporting me in whatever I needed,” she said.
After graduating from high school, Juan Carlos Hernández toggled between school and work, including at Target and J.C. Penney, dreaming of raising enough money to buy his own car. At the beginning of 2020, he took a break from school to focus on his job at the dispensary at the corner of Western and 81st Street.
“He’s a young man with ambitions and dreams,” his mother said. She added that he is also involved in activities at the family’s Catholic church.
She said that since he disappeared, friends and family members have come together — including from other states — to help search for her son.
“Keep searching. Keep sharing his photos on social media,” his mother said. “I’m asking police to do whatever they can, to use the resources that I don’t have as a mother. See what they can find in video cameras; maybe they can get people to talk who won’t talk with us.”
She also delivered a message to her missing son: “To Juan, I want to say that I will not give up. I will be strong, and I will do everything I can to find you. I will move the heavens and the Earth until you come back to us. We love you. We miss you. And we’re all worried about you.”
Jiménez writes for Times en Español. Times staff writer Hayley Smith contributed to this report.
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