Authorities in California have found a car belonging to a mother of three who has been missing from El Dorado County for nearly a month.
But the search for Heather Gumina continues.
Gumina, also known as Heather Gumina Waters, has been missing since July 16, but the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office does not know where she was last seen, according to CNN affiliate KTXL. The sheriff’s office said Friday that it had found the 33-year-old’s black 2005 Infiniti G35.
Police did not say where the car was found, just that it was found within the county and is now being forensically processed for evidence.
The sheriff’s office previously said it thought she might be driving the car, which has pink accents.
Gumina is a mother to three children, aged 4, 10 and 14. Gumina’s mother, Joanna Russell, told KTXL that the children have not heard from her daughter, whom she described as a loving mother and wife, since her disappearance.
She had recently been released from the hospital after breaking her collarbone, Russell told KTXL.
“Every minute of the day I feel like dying inside,” Russell said at a vigil for Gumina, according to the station. “I do, I feel like dying because I didn’t protect her. I didn’t protect her.”
“We are working really hard to find her. Everybody is joined together in prayer. Bring her home,” said friend Kathy Schneider at the vigil, according to the affiliate.
Police are urging anyone with information to call 530-621-6600.
Over 600,000 people go missing in the United States every year, according to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.
Many of the missing adults and children are found safe but others are never found or are found dead.
“It is estimated that 4,400 unidentified bodies are recovered each year, with approximately 1,000 of those bodies remaining unidentified after one year,” the center stated.
As of Jan. 22, there were 15,325 open missing person cases in addition to 12,449 open unidentified person cases.
As of Dec. 31, 2017, the National Crime Information Center had over 88,000 active missing person cases across the country. But hundreds of thousands of cases were resolved that year.
Approximately 651,000 missing person records were entered but about the same number were removed.
“Reasons for these removals include: a law enforcement agency located the subject, the individual returned home, or the record had to be removed by the entering agency due to a determination that the record is invalid,” the center stated.
The first 72 hours in a missing person case is the most critical, according to criminology experts. It’s imperative to obtain information through leads before people start to forget about potentially crucial details, Dr. Bryanna Fox, former FBI agent and criminology professor at the University of South Florida, told ABC News.
“The information that law enforcement gets tends to be a little more accurate, and they are able to act on the information and hopefully get that person who is missing quicker,” Fox said. Later, there are fewer “bread crumbs,” or leads, to follow.
Dr. Michelle Jeanis, a criminology professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, said that time is an important factor because the missing person could be in danger.
After about a week, the person could very likely be dead, said former FBI Special Agent in Charge Steve Gomez. “There’s a certain point after about a week or two where you have to think, the potential that the missing person is dead and now it’s a matter of trying to find their body and bring closure to the family and to determine if you now have a homicide investigation, or suicide, or some kind of accidental death,” he said.
NTD staff contributed to this article.