Police: Still no arrest in woman’s homicide, language barrier an added hurdle to investigation

Photos of Justina Altamirano Mosso, 19, provided by the Lawrence Police Department.

Nearing a month after Lawrence police said they found 19-year-old Justina Altamirano Mosso slain inside a Lawrence apartment, officials have yet to detain a suspect, Lawrence Police Department spokesman Sgt. Trent McKinley said Tuesday.

Altamirano Mosso’s body was found Nov. 9 amid a violent scene at Cedarwood Apartments, 1727 W. 24th St., after Lawrence police responded to a call to check on her. Her death is the ninth homicide in Lawrence since July 2013, and it is the only one that remains unsolved, McKinley said.

“This is the only homicide case which, at this point, has not yet been cleared by investigators,” McKinley said. “Some homicide investigations have resulted in an arrest the day of the incident while others have taken weeks or months to clear.”

McKinley said one of the factors contributing to the lag in the investigation is the lack of fluent, Spanish-speaking officers to aid in the case.

“This particular investigation has been complicated by a language barrier between officers and many individuals contacted through the course of the investigation,” McKinley said. “Though some investigators speak fluent Spanish, we have very few of them.”

McKinley said the department has used two Lawrence police officers who are temporarily assigned to the investigations division for most of the Spanish interviews in the case.

Altamirano Mosso came to the United States earlier this year to “make a better life” for her daughter back home in Guerrero, Mexico, her cousin Elizabeth Castro told the Journal-World in Spanish from Mexico by email. Castro said Altamirano Mosso and those close to her, including her husband, Felipe Cantu Ruiz, did not speak much English.

Altamirano Mosso’s cousin Hortencia Flores, who lives in Lawrence, said she has been in constant fear since the death of her cousin without an arrest being made.

“I’m afraid of how my cousin died. My family has told me to leave here,” Flores said in Spanish. “I would be more secure if they caught the suspect.”

McKinley said though the translation problem has added a hurdle to the investigation, detectives continue to make strides toward a resolution.

“Despite this challenge and others, we continue to make progress in the investigation,” McKinley said. “That said, we still encourage anyone with information on this case to call Lawrence Police at 785-832-7509 or CrimeStoppers at (785) 843-8477.”

A special Spanish speaking tips line has also been set up and can be reached by calling 785-830-7482.