EL PASO, Texas (AP) — A West Texas teenager who earlier this collected $17,000 in donations after telling people in her small town that she was dying of leukemia and had only had six months to live faces charges for lying about being sick.
Nine months later, Ruth Angelica "Angie" Gomez, 18, of Horizon City, a town located 20 miles east of El Paso, is still very much alive and has been charged with theft by deception for receiving donations under false pretenses.
"We haven't found anything that indicates that she does have leukemia," Horizon City Police Detective Liliane Medina told The Associated Press Wednesday.
Police began investigating in June, after someone complained that Gomez claimed she was terminally ill but did not appear to be sick. Gomez collected donations through an organization called Achieve the Dream Foundation, which she created in May to help children with leukemia beat cancer.
Police filed state jail felony charges against Gomez earlier this week after subpoenaing her bank records, The District Attorney's office is reviewing the case.
No other suspects were involved, police said.
Gomez, a June graduate of Horizon City High, could not be reached for comment Wednesday and it was not immediately known if she had an attorney.
Although the website for her Achieve The Dream Foundation was no longer in service, an archive showed a smiling Gomez sporting a dark T-shirt with her organization's green ribbon-shaped logo and the tagline: "Behind every fighter there is a supporter. Will you be mine?"
Hundreds responded to pleas Gomez made through motivational talks and fundraisers. Among those taken in were students at Da Vinci High School, who threw a prom party/fundraiser for her after she told them that she had missed her own senior prom because she was in treatment.
It was a dream prom with a limousine, a dress donated by a fancy boutique and Gomez, named queen of the dance.
But the end of 2010 was apparently a turbulent time for the teen. After returning from a trip to Kansas City, Mo., Gomez told her church that the cancer she had spent 11 years of her childhood battling had come back even stronger and she would not live to see the summer.
She also told Nicole Matsuda, a 28-year-old youth leader at the First Methodist Church and stay-at-home mom, that her parents had kicked her out of the house and asked for a place to temporarily stay.
"That is something we would do from time to time, we work with a lot of teenage kids," Matsuda told The Associated Press during in an interview at her Horizon City home in June.
"Now I hear that she told her parents that one of my children was sick and that I needed her to come help me," Matsuda says.
The two weeks that the Matsudas expected Gomez to stay with them turned into six months. "She came across as very nice, not what you think of when you think of a problem child," Matsuda said.
Pale and skinny, it was not hard for some people to think Gomez was ill. "She would be weak, always sleeping," Matsuda added.
From time to time, Gomez would ask people to drive her to a nearby hospital to get treatment but not to wait because she did not want to impose.
In an El Paso Times story in March, she said that from age 2 until she turned 13, she practically lived at the Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City Mo., battling leukemia. Hospital records show that no patient with her name was treated at Children's Mercy within the past 10 years.
She also said she had been at the St. Jude Children's hospital; a medical center that specializes in cancer treatment. Hospital records show no one under the name Angie or Angelica Gomez ever being a patient there.
At times, when her story seemed contradictory, Matsuda said she would not get satisfactory explanations but "you almost felt guilty if you had a suspicion: How can you question someone who is dying?"
Freddy Alcantar, Gomez's fiance, said she fooled him, too. They were making plans to marry in August, he said in a June interview. She would take medications, he remembered. "But I didn't ask what kind, it was a sensitive subject." The last he heard from her was a brief call where she told him she was going away. "She just disappeared," he said.
After the news of the investigation came out, Alcantar said he was fired from his job but he didn't blame her. "I don't know what's real and what's not," he said. "Hopefully, it's a rumor and it will blow over."
Gomez's mother, Sandra Gomez, posted a sign in one of the windows of her Horizon City home three months ago that read: "no comment, call the detective."
Detectives initially were baffled about how, in a city of less than 20,000 people and widespread media attention, the scam went on for so long. "The parents had seen the articles and they were trying to get her to correct them. But we don't know what she was telling them," Detective Jonathan Walden said. "They didn't talk too much" with their daughter.
Jose Ramirez, a teacher that accompanied Angie Gomez to press interviews and even proposed the El Paso City Council declare a week to raise awareness on leukemia, declined to comment because of orders from the school district.
In March, he told the El Paso newspaper: "A lot of times we don't pay attention to what students do. But the magnitude of what Angie is doing is something that can't be ignored.