January 5, 2024
Searching for Joshua Garcia
The FBI is offering a $20,000 reward to help find Joshua Garcia, who disappeared over 20 years ago in Mexico City.
Ellen Ferrante: Joshua Garcia was nearly 2 years old when he was kidnapped 20 years ago in Mexico City. What followed was a series of ransom calls—and a money drop that led to the arrest of a key suspect. But Joshua still hasn’t been seen since 2003.
In this episode, learn more about the case and what you can do to help us find Joshua.
I’m Ellen Ferrante, and this is Inside the FBI.
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Ferrante: Joshua Keshaba Sierra Garcia was born in the United States in 2001. Joshua's parents planned for him to visit family and to get baptized in their native Mexico City.
Joshua traveled with his uncle to Mexico and arrived safely at his grandmother’s house. One day, August 12, his grandmother and uncle stepped out to run an errand, leaving Joshua with his teenage cousin. Several hours later, they returned, only to find the teenager dead. And Joshua missing.
Joshua’s grandmother and uncle contacted the police in Mexico, who immediately began to investigate. When Joshua’s parents were notified, they contacted the FBI in Los Angeles, and the FBI started working closely with the Mexican government to find Joshua.
Erik Arbuthnot: The question from the very beginning was not who took Joshua Garcia. It's what happened to Joshua Garcia. Where is Joshua Garcia today? And that's really been the question for the last 20 years.
Ferrante: That was Special Agent Erik Arbuthnot, who has been working on the case out of the FBI Los Angeles Field Office. He explains that a few things happened early in the investigation: namely, law enforcement arrested the individual who murdered Joshua’s cousin, who is also the person believed to have kidnapped Joshua.
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Soon after the crime was reported to the police, law enforcement arrived on the scene. One of the very first people they interviewed was a man renting a space in Joshua’s grandmother’s home. He had a scratched face and torso. He told them he got into a fight with his wife—but the police were thinking that scratches could also be the sign of a larger struggle with someone trying to defend themselves.
During the course of the investigation, Joshua’s family received a ransom phone call. The ask? Five-hundred-thousand Mexican pesos, or about $50,000 U.S. dollars. It’s an amount the family couldn't pay, so they began a series of negotiations with the caller. And with the help of the FBI, investigators determined where the ransom calls were coming from—a payphone in Mexico City.
Arbuthnot: And as the negotiations go on, the Mexican government finds the payphone and starts surveilling the payphone. So literally just covertly watching this payphone. And sure enough, guess who shows up to make the ransom calls to the family is this original renter—the guy with the scratches on his face and torso from the very first day. He actually shows up and he's the one—they're actually watching him—he's making the ransom demands to the family.
Ferrante: The family—with the help of the police department and the FBI—asked the kidnapper for proof that they even knew Joshua. The kidnapper correctly described the clothing that Joshua was wearing when he was kidnapped and dropped off one of Joshua’s sandals as further proof.
This evidence confirmed that the caller had Joshua, and the family continued to negotiate the ransom amount. The kidnapper agreed to $10,000 U.S. dollars, an amount Joshua’s family could pay, and planned to drop off the money at a location on the outskirts of Mexico City.
Arbuthnot: And so, the Mexican police department coordinates this money drop and then, again covertly watches the money to see who comes and picks it up. And no surprise to you, or to the listeners, it's the same guy again—the renter with the scratches who made the ransom calls. He shows up in a taxi to pick up the money and he gets out of the taxi, tells the taxi driver to wait for him. He goes to the exact location and picks up the ransom money. And then while this is happening, you know, 10 minutes go by or more, and the taxi driver decides, “You know what? You know, I just got stiffed from this fare. He didn't pay and he's not coming back.”
So, the taxi driver just drives away and then the subject, you know, reappears with the money, and his taxi is gone. He's on the outskirts of Mexico City by himself. And it really is just the police and the subject with the ransom money, you know, staring at each other. And they make a decision, at that point, “Okay, we're going to arrest him for the murder of Joshua's cousin and for the kidnapping of Joshua.”
And the hope was that by arresting him and putting pressure on him, that he would provide the location of Joshua Garcia.
Ferrante: The suspect was arrested and taken in for questioning. He actually led the investigators to what he called a “safe house,” a location where he claimed Joshua was hidden following the kidnapping. But when the investigators went to the house, there was no evidence that a child was ever there.
Not long after the first arrest, Joshua’s grandmother received another call:
Arbuthnot: It's a male caller, and he says, “I know where Joshua Garcia is. And for a certain amount of money, I will tell you where he is, and you'll be able to find him. He's alive, he's fine, pay this money and you'll be reunited with Joshua.”
So, she agrees and pays the money. And unfortunately, it turns out to be an extortion by an individual who was just trying to get money...
Ferrante: ...An individual who happened to be the father of the original suspect in jail.
Arbuthnot: So, his father, who was probably involved in the original kidnapping, is now arrested for extorting Joshua's grandmother again for the location of Joshua. So now there's been two arrests: The original kidnapper got time for the murder and also for the kidnapping. So, it was like life imprisonment. And then his father ends up going to jail for extortion.
Ferrante: The kidnapper’s father ultimately died in prison. He never cooperated with authorities regarding what happened to Joshua Garcia, even though it’s likely he knew something.
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Over the years, the son would call up the FBI, saying he was ready to talk and tell them what happened.
Arbuthnot: And we would fly down to the prison and talk to him. Going to interview him in Mexico City was always about, “Where is Joshua Garcia? Where is he? Can you tell us what happened?”
And it became apparent that he was never going to be able to tell us the location of Joshua Garcia—not because he didn't want to or that we weren't working hard enough to try to get him to the point where he would tell us.
I think it was just at the end of the day, the assessment was he really doesn't know what happened to Joshua Garcia.
Ferrante: So, did this father and son act alone? Investigators determined there were two other people involved—so four total—but there was never enough evidence to charge them with anything. Ultimately, the number one goal remains answering the question, where is Joshua?
Investigators have tried multiple approaches to crack the case, including collecting DNA from Joshua’s parents in hopes they one day get a match.
And in 2006, Arbuthnot and the other case agents traveled to Mexico City and searched three different locations around Joshua's grandmother's house looking for any remains that could have belonged to Joshua, if he was murdered.
Arbuthnot: So, we take the cadaver dogs. We have a lot of assistance from the Mexican government and police. And we’re there for several days. And, you know, we're digging in these different neighborhoods, and we find, again, no evidence that Joshua Garcia was killed, and find no human remains at all, which, you know, is positive. But again, we get no closure for the family at that point.
Ferrante: While it’s clear there was a financial motive, investigators still aren’t sure what the kidnappers had intended when they took Joshua. Over the years, investigators have received information pointing to different theories.
Arbuthnot: We were told that the plan for Joshua Garcia was that there was a couple, a husband and wife in Mexico City, who could not have children, who wanted to buy a child. And so, one theory in the case, one possibility in the case, was that Joshua Garcia was sold to a couple and that he was basically adopted illegally by this couple and was raised in Mexico and is still alive today. So that is definitely a working theory and a reason to continue working on the case.
Ferrante: Joshua Garcia was last seen wearing a grey sweatshirt, blue shorts, and sandals. He has pierced ears. To view artist’s renditions of what Joshua may have looked like since he was kidnapped, visit fbi.gov/missing.
If you have any information about Joshua, please contact the FBI's Los Angeles Field Office at (310) 477-6565 or 1-800-CALL-FBI. You can also contact your local FBI office or the nearest American Embassy or Consulate. To submit an anonymous tip online, please visit tips.fbi.gov. The FBI is offering an up to $20,000 reward for information leading to Joshua's recovery.
Arbuthnot: I think always with these cases, the goal is really to get some level of closure for the family. You know, we're not giving up and the hope is to still find him one day.
Ferrante: This has been another production of Inside the FBI. You can follow us on your favorite podcast player, including Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or YouTube. You can also subscribe to email alerts about new episodes at fbi.gov/podcasts.
I’m Ellen Ferrante from the FBI’s Office of Public Affairs. Thanks for tuning in.
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The overall mission of the FBI's Violent Crimes Against Children program is to protect children against harmful threats, including sex trafficking, online child exploitation, child abductions, and child sex tourism.
On this episode of Inside the FBI, we learn about the Bureau’s Child Abduction Rapid Deployment Team—which partners with state and local law enforcement to help bring kids home—and discuss ways you can keep your own children safe.