DENMARK — For Ramona and Narciso Torres, the grief is heaviest each year between April 1, their son’s birthday, and May 21, the day he disappeared.

In 1999, at the end of his junior year of college, 21-year-old Angel Torres hopped a bus from Massachusetts to Biddeford to visit friends and, police later learned, to sell drugs. He hasn’t been seen since.

His parents believe he was murdered. Though they weren’t aware of it at the time, they have come to accept that he was probably involved in drug dealing. Police say that could have played a role in his death, but they’ve never publicly identified any suspects, and 20 years later the case appears no closer to being solved.

A photo of Angel “Tony” Torres, taken shortly before he disappeared in 1999. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“I just keep saying, why are people so afraid of talking,” Ramona said this month from the couple’s home in Denmark, a quiet town in Oxford County northwest of Sebago Lake. “Somebody obviously knows what happened to Angel. Somebody’s holding it in, and I just wish, if they have children now, when they bend down to say goodnight to that child that they think of us.”

Lt. Mark Holmquist, head of the Maine State Police’s southern division major crimes unit, said he understands the Torreses’ frustration. He’s a parent, too, and said he can’t imagine their pain.

“We get leads on this case quite frequently, it’s one of our more active cases that we have in major crimes,” he said, declining to share specifics.

Holmquist’s detectives are working with the state police Unsolved Homicide Unit, which was established in 2015. The Torreses were among the families who pushed for the state to fund a squad devoted to cases that had gone cold, even though their son’s case is not technically an unsolved homicide but a missing person.

“These cases are fluid,” said Lt. Jeffrey Love, a longtime homicide investigator who supervises the cold case unit. “There could be a lead that comes in tomorrow that will demand more resources and other times, you’re just waiting for that phone call.”

The Torres case serves as a reminder that even with additional resources, investigators are sometimes at the mercy of people and their memories. Not every case gets solved. Torres is one of 30 open missing person cases dating to 1971, in addition to 75 unsolved homicides since 1968.

The couple has offered a reward to anyone who provides information that leads to the discovery of Angel’s body. Recently they increased the reward to $15,000, thanks to contributions from two of Angel’s childhood friends, including Jason Kohn, who donated $5,000,

“The money is for them, really,” said Kohn, who lives in Florida. “I just can see how much they need closure and they deserve that.”

In front of the couple’s home is a manicured memorial garden with a plaque bearing Angel’s name. At every holiday meal, they leave an empty chair. On his birthday this year, they celebrated with their two other sons by cooking Angel’s favorite meal – flank steak with Spanish sauce, macaroni and cheese and flan for dessert.

They often wonder how his life might have turned out. What would he have chosen for a career? Would he be married with kids? Would he have moved back to Maine?

“I have no doubt he was on his way to success,” Narciso said.

NEW YORK CITY TO MAINE

Ramona and Narciso Torres were both born in Puerto Rico but didn’t know each other as children. They met and fell in love in New York City.

Ramona and Narciso Torres pose this month near a memorial garden that Ramona created for her son Angel, who disappeared 20 years ago. Police believe he was murdered but the case remains unsolved. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

They moved to Maine when Angel was 6 years old. Their oldest son, Luis, was 10 at the time. Their youngest son, Jamel, would come along three years later.

Luis is 46 and lives in Wakefield, New Hampshire. He has a wife and four children. Jamel is 32. He lives in Freeport and is the assistant town planner in Scarborough.

Jamel said the nine-year age difference between him and Angel meant they weren’t extremely close. But Angel, sometimes reluctantly, found time to play with his younger brother.

In a diverse place like New York, a boy named Angel didn’t stand out, but in Maine, Angel was a girl’s name, so he went by Tony.

He played soccer and basketball. He loved music and dancing. He liked girls and they liked him, his parents said. Narciso said he remembers some of Angel’s classmates bristling “at this brown-skinned kid who was messing around with white girls.”

Kohn, who attended middle school with Torres but lost touch when they went to different high schools, said Angel was gregarious with everyone.

“I wish we had stayed in touch. He was a good friend,” Kohn said.

Angel didn’t get into trouble. That’s one of the biggest reasons the Torreses, both retired educators, moved to Maine – so their children would feel safe.

“In New York, we confined the kids to the apartment,” Narciso said. “You can’t do that.”

Angel did well in school, first at Bonny Eagle and then Fryebrug Academy. When the time came, he was accepted at several colleges throughout New England. He settled on Framingham State College, now a university, about a half hour west of Boston and 150 miles from home.

He was majoring in business and minoring in Spanish, a nod to his parents’ roots. By his junior year, he had met a classmate named Beth and they started dating.

In the spring of 1999, they decided to get an apartment together off campus. He brought her home for Mother’s Day to meet his parents, and they liked her.

That was the last time Ramona and Narciso saw their son.

Jamel was 12 when his brother disappeared.

“I remember being really confused and thinking, ‘Oh, he’ll come back,’ ’’ he said.

A LOST WITNESS?

Police believe they have pieced together a timeline of Angel’s final days and hours, but there are gaps, too.

If he vanished today, they might be able to monitor his cellphone or his internet activity or review surveillance camera footage. Twenty years ago, those weren’t options.

Angel last called home on May 19 to wish his parents a happy anniversary.

“I made a joke and said, ‘One day it will be you celebrating your own anniversary,’ ” Ramona said.

He told his mother he would call again in a couple of days. He and Beth had moved into their new apartment in the town of Barre, Massachusetts, and their phone had not been set up yet.

But Angel left out a detail. He already was in Maine.

He didn’t call his parents back and, by that weekend, they grew worried. They reached out to Beth, who said she hadn’t heard from Angel either. She said she had taken him to the bus station in Boston on May 19 and he was coming home to Maine.

His parents said they weren’t bothered or concerned that he was in Maine because he was going to Biddeford, not Denmark. Besides, he was an adult. He didn’t need their permission.

But they were curious about the people he was going to see.

“Tony was naïve,” his father said. “He didn’t do enough to distinguish between good and bad people. He mingled with everyone.”

One of those people was Jason Carney, a childhood friend who would later be a main source of information for police.

Carney told investigators that he and Angel had spent a few days trying to sell drugs in Biddeford, Saco and Old Orchard Beach. The night Angel disappeared, Carney said, the two were at a friend’s apartment in Biddeford but were going to meet with some people who were unhappy about the quality of drugs they had bought from them earlier in the day.

Carney returned to the apartment later and was upset and disheveled, police would later say. Angel was not with him.

Carney told police that he walked with Angel to a nearby convenience store and that someone was going to pick Angel up to bring him either home or to North Conway, New Hampshire. It was 2 a.m.

Cars pass by Jaky’s Market & Deli in Biddeford. The store was the last place that Angel Torres was seen alive 20 years ago. The person who last saw him, Jason Carney, died of a drug overdose in 2015. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“That doesn’t make sense,” Ramona said. “If he was coming home, he wouldn’t have just showed up without calling, especially in the middle of the night.”

Carney died in 2015 at age 36 in Rhode Island of a suspected drug overdose.

“He would have been somebody we would have re-approached from time to time to see if anything had changed,” Holmquist said. “We think that Jason Carney had more information than what he chose to provide and, yes, that is frustrating.”

PARALLELS WITH A MURDER CASE

Ramona said when Angel was home for spring break in March of 1999, it was only a month after 15-year-old Ashley Ouellette was found strangled to death in the middle of a road in Scarborough.

When a TV news segment about her case came on, Angel said, “Oh, I know who she is, I hung out with her and I pretty much know who killed her,’ ” Ramona said.

That case also remains unsolved, but police have confirmed that some of the people they interviewed in connection with Ouellette’s death also were interviewed about Angel’s disappearance.

“There were some individuals that crossed into both cases,” Holmquist said. “You have a location that’s similar; the span of time between them was only a couple months. You could make some parallel connections based off that.”

Ouellette’s mother also has said that one of the boys her daughter was with on the night of her death was Jason Carney.

The Torreses wonder if their son’s disappearance was related to his knowledge of who killed Ouellette.

Another similarity between the two cases is that both have been hampered by uncooperative witnesses.

“Some have been cooperative over the years and some have given an initial interview and decided not to cooperate further.” Holmquist said.

Angel’s parents believe fear might be motivating that silence.

“I don’t want to criticize the state police,” Narciso said. “We meet with them, they are good listeners. But they really don’t offer much other than what the public knows already. I think they’re at a dead end.”

Lt. Love said he understands why the family might feel that way, but he said police continue to follow every lead.

“As time goes on, dynamics within an individual’s life change, whether it’s a separation from a marriage or a breakup or they, themselves, get in trouble with the law,” he said. “And investigators keep their ear on these investigations so that if someone does change, they can sit down with these people and revisit a conversation in the past that could garner more information.”

Early on, every knock at the Torres’ door or phone call produced a sinking feeling. That doesn’t happen anymore. Twenty years is a long time.

Ramona said she sometimes sees old friends of Angel’s, now grown men and women with children of their own.

“I don’t want to feel selfish but yes, I do see them and think, what would it be like for us if Angel was alive,” she said.

Jamel, Angel’s younger brother, said he wants nothing more than for his parents to be able to move on but, “without knowing, it’s hard to take that step.”

“They are the strongest people I know. It’s incredible how they have dealt with this,” he said.

He conceded that his parents likely carry the weight of Angel’s loss more than he does.

“But it doesn’t really go away. There are some days when I’m driving to work and think, what would it be like to call him and check in,” Jamel said.

Denmark is a small community. The Torreses stand out because of their ethnicity but also because they are the parents who lost a son.

“The only time it bothers me is if people who are very religious say something like ‘God doesn’t give you more than you can handle,’ ” Ramona said. “I don’t know about that.”

Anyone with information about the disappearance of Angel Torres can call the Maine State Police in Augusta at 624-7076, or the Major Crimes Unit at 657-5710.


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