Rafael Jose Antonio VANEGAS
|Date of Birth:||1944|
|At time of disappearance -|
|Hair Colour:||Black||Eye Colour:||Brown||Complexion:||Olive|
|Nationality:||Racial Appearance:||Latin American|
|Circumstances - Rafael was last seen at his Wagga Wagga, NSW unit at 11.00am on 12 November 2002. A family member went to visit him at his unit on 15 November, however, there was no sign of Rafael. He has not been seen, nor made contact with family or friends since this time. There are concerns for his welfare.|
The family of a Wagga Wagga man who went missing seven years ago has renewed calls for public help after an inquest into the disappearance.
Rafael Vanegas, who was originally from El Salvador, was last seen in central Wagga on November 14, 2002.
Yesterday, the coroner's court at Junee heard that since then he has not used his passport, touched his bank account or contacted family.
Mr Vanegas had schizophrenia and a fear of police and sometimes wandered into the bush to feel safe.
Deputy state coroner Carl Milovanovic found Mr Vanegas is dead but could not say how, when or where he died.
Eight members of Mr Vanegas' immediate family attended the inquest and they say they cannot accept Mr Vanegas is dead without concrete evidence.
Gloria Vanegas says she will keep seeking answers about her father's disappearance.
"We do appeal to people to come forward and if they know anything at all that might be of some help," she said.
Another daughter, Rosario Vanegas, says she accepts the coroner has made findings based on the evidence that was presented.
"We're never going to give up on our father, especially when there is no concrete evidence that says where he died or how," she said.
"We beg the public if they know anything to please come forward and help us put the pieces back together of our family."
The appeal was made during an inquest into the disappearance and suspected death of Mr Vanegas, who before he vanished was a well-known figure in Wagga's central business district where he wandered along the streets wearing a distinctive Akubra hat.
The 58-year-old father of eight and a refugee from war-torn El Salvador was last seen on November 14, 2002.
Numerous searches of the Murrumbidgee River, the lagoon at Tony Ireland Park in the centre of the city and Pomingalarna Reserve have proved fruitless.
Mr Vanegas and his wife, Maria, were held captive by militia forces in their home country between 1980 and 1986.
Shortly after his family was accepted into Australia as refugees in 1991, Mr Vanegas was diagnosed as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia.
The court heard he had a fear of police from his experiences in El Salvador and often escaped into bushland because he felt safe there.
The police officer in charge of investigating Mr Vanegas' disappearance, Detective Sergeant Dale Holmes, told the coroners court yesterday there was no evidence the missing man had been a homicide victim.
He detailed all the investigations to find Mr Vanegas, including looking into boasts by a teenager he had killed the man, two claims by a psychic she knew where a body was and an offer by a water diviner to find Mr Vanegas' body if he had the use of a police helicopter.
He said there was no evidence Mr Vanegas had left Australia, his bank accounts had not been used and he had not bought medications or seen a doctor over the past seven years.
Detective Holmes raised the possibility Mr Vanegas may have fallen down a mine shaft on Pomingalarna Reserve, a place where he had once spent up to eight days after an incident with police.
But time hasn’t stopped the Wodonga psychology student from searching for him.
“Sometimes when I walk down the street and I see a person that looks like dad my eyes light up,” Miss Vanegas said.
“There’s still a bit of hope that anything’s possible.”
Rafael Jose Vanegas, 62, was last seen at his Wagga unit at 11am on November 12, 2002.
When his wife Maria went to take him to a dental appointment on November 15 he was gone.
Mr Vanegas, who has schizophrenia, had gone missing before for stints up to a week long.
But after his family failed to hear from the father of seven for three days, they reported him missing to police and set out to find him.
“My sisters came down from Sydney and we searched all along the
banks of the Murray River,” Miss Vanegas said.
“The worst thing was the possibility of finding him dead.”
After searches failed to find any trace of Rafael, Mrs Vanegas’s
instincts told her someone had harmed her husband.
“Wagga is a small place and someone must know something,” she
“We want anyone who knows anything to come forward.
“We need closure — we need to bury his bones.”
The Vanegas family migrated to Wagga from El Salvador in 1991.
After losing a son during war in their homeland, Mr and Mrs
Vanegas came to Australia for a fresh start.
Gloria Vanegas describes her father as a protective family man.
Disappearing days before her year 10 formal, she said one of the
hardest moments was watching her friends dance at the event with their
Miss Vanegas said she chose a career in psychology to help the
community better understand people with a mental illness and to get some
answers about why her father disappeared.
“Not a day passes when I don’t think about him,” she said.
“Not knowing what happened to him is the hardest part.”
Rafael Vanegas has a Latin American appearance, is 160cm tall,
with black hair, brown eyes, a thin build and olive complexion.
Anyone with information about him should contact Wagga police, (02) 6921 0544 or Crime Stoppers, 1800 333 000.