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September death that stirred backlash against police was a suicide
Erika Lopez killed herself, Modesto Police confirm
Lopez suicide
The September death of 39-year-old Erika Lopez of Ceres was a suicide. She was found dead in a Modesto church parking lot.

The late September death of 39-year-old Ceres wife and mother Erika Lopez has been ruled to be a suicide and not a homicide, Modesto Police Department has confirmed.

Lopez’s body was discovered inside her car on the afternoon of Sept. 24 after she didn’t return home from work the prior night. She had called her daughter that Friday evening to say she would be home in about 30 minutes. Lopez’s car was found inside the parking lot of St. Stanislaus Catholic Church on Maze Boulevard along her normal route home from her San Jose medical job.

The Courier learned that Lopez self-asphyxiated after placing a plastic bag around her head. The Stanislaus County Coroner’s Office would not release the results of her toxicology report which might shed more light on any other aspects of the suicide.

Social media posts made by Lopez’s 17-year-old daughter the night of her mother’s disappearance suggested she may have been a victim of foul play related to an alleged stalker. Those comments fueled a storm of criticism that Ceres Police didn’t aggressively look for her. Upon discovery of the body, Modesto Police had stated that the death was not being investigated as a homicide and there were no suspect but that didn’t stop an emotional and reactionary crowd to show up at the Sept. 26 Ceres City Council to lob sharp criticism toward Ceres Police in their handling of the case.

Ceres Police Sgt. Keith Griebel said that his department did try to locate Lopez the night of her disappearance.

Ceres Police Chief Rick Collins said the public didn’t have all the facts about the case, saying his department was only informed of one instance of a suspicious person at the Lopez residence days prior to Lopez’s disappearance and death.

Chief Collins confirmed that on Sept. 20 a mysterious man was seen peering into the Lopez residence and had walked to the door to check the door knob. Lopez’s 19-year-old son was home at the time and called police. When an officer came out to investigate the man was gone but was shown a cell phone image of the man’s pickup but a license plate could not be deciphered and the investigation stalled.

It was only during the Friday evening filing of a missing persons’ report at around 11:05 p.m. that Ceres Police learned that the same man had showed up in the neighborhood on Sept. 22. The man was seen sitting in a pickup parked down the street. Lopez’s husband walked down to confront the man, later identified as Salvador Vasquez. The man reportedly told Lopez that he was known to Erika but that he would not show up again. Chief Collins said police were not told about that encounter until Lopez became a missing person.

He also stated that the family gave the man’s name as Salvador Velasquez when it turned out to actually be Salvador Vasquez. When Vasquez saw his name on social media linked to the missing woman, he reported to Oakdale Police to be interviewed and was dismissed as a suspect.

It’s unknown when Lopez ended her life. She was on her way home Friday evening, Sept. 23 from San Jose where she worked at a hospital and called her daughter at 7:46 p.m. to report that she would be home in about a half-hour. When she hadn’t returned two hours later Lopez’s daughter and husband Jerry began to worry and called police. They later began searching the route she would have taken along Highway 580 and 132. The family also searched the Herndon Road area near Ceres High School as her cell phone had last pinged there.

Lopez had shut off her phone at around 8 p.m. the night of her disappearance but not before sending texts to family, her boss and some co-workers expressing love and gratitude which one relative said was out of character.

The next day Lopez’s boss assisted in searching for Lopez and at approximately 3 p.m. passed by St. Stanislaus Catholic Church when he spotted Lopez’s black Honda. He was unable to see inside the car due to dark window tinting and called 911. Modesto Police arrived and located Lopez inside and unresponsive.