By Ruth Bayang
Northwest Asian Weekly
“I firmly believe we’ll have some answers in the next 30 to 60 days.”
Jonathan Reinhard of Wallingford said he is “hanging in there.” His wife, Jenny Chen, 26, was last seen leaving the city of Oaxaca, Mexico for Cancun on April 12. The couple was supposed to meet up in Cancun for a vacation and she never showed up.
A Chinese citizen who moved to the United States in 2013, Chen began a backpacking trip in Mexico in early March. Her husband describes her as a curious, passionate woman, who loves to experience new things.
“I’m trying to balance this whole situation with paying my bills and keep my job and stop from going crazy,” said Reinhard. Almost two months since anyone last saw Chen, Reinhard said, “We are close to getting some answers.”
With the help of money raised from a GoFundMe campaign (gofundme.com/helpfindjenny), Reinhard has hired a private investigator in Mexico, who has turned up a solid lead in the search for Chen.
The investigator tracked Chen’s April 11 route from Oaxaca City, to Juchitan, approximately 6 hours away. He located the family she stayed with that night. That investigator discovered that the next day, on April 12, Chen tried to catch a ride from Juchitan toward Cancun from passing vehicles on highway 185. About 2 p.m. that same afternoon, eyewitnesses saw the driver of a Corona beer truck stop on the side of the highway, wave Chen over, and offer her a ride. Chen left with that driver and has not been seen since.
Attempts to obtain information about the truck and the driver have hit a brick wall, until last week.
“They’re finally allowing us access,” said Reinhard of Grupo Modelo, Corona’s parent company. “We had to get the police, Corona, my investigator, and myself all together on one phone call, and Corona is finally saying, ‘OK, let’s work with you.’”
In the last few weeks, Reinhard had asked friends and supporters to continue putting pressure on Grupo Modelo through a social media campaign on Facebook and Twitter.
Reinhard said it’s encouraging, but the jury’s still out. “I’m hopeful and the communication with Corona is a lot more positive. I have hope that they will partner with me in this situation.” Reinhard believes the answer he is seeking will come from that truck driver.
As long as it takes
“I love my wife and I’ll keep this up for as long as I possibly can to get her back,” said Reinhard. He has been to Mexico three times in the past two months and is planning another trip there soon.
Reinhard said this whole situation has not only been an emotional and mental strain, but a financial one as well. “Traveling, paying for private investigators — all that stuff adds up really fast.”
“Every little bit helps,” said Reinhard of his GoFundMe page. He said there was a flood of contributions in the beginning, but it has slowed in recent weeks. He said anything he earns, above and beyond paying bills, goes toward the search effort for his wife.
Reinhard said his employer has been “fantastic,” supportive and cooperative.
Chen is a permanent resident of the United States and was on the path to citizenship. Because she’s not a citizen yet, her husband said it has been difficult getting help from the U.S. State Department. And he feels the Chinese authorities have not done much either. “It’s so confusing and it’s such a mess,” said Reinhard. “We need to establish protocols and we have to pressure the government to do more because they are not, and this happens more often than people think.”
A romance borne of KFC
Reinhard said he and his wife have been together for eight years. They met while he lived in China and he attended an event called “English Corner” by a lake, which was a gathering place for Chinese who want to practice their English.
He said he was surrounded by a group of Chinese and he heard a small voice asking if he liked Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Reinhard said he gave out his phone number to several people that day and he got a call shortly after from Chen who said, “Hi, I’m Jenny. Would you like to go out on a date with me?”
The rest, as they say, is history. The couple married in 2012. Chen moved to the United States in 2013.
When asked if he thinks his wife is in trouble, Reinhard answered “yes.” He has expressed concerns previously that Chen may have been sold into human trafficking.
But he remains optimistic. “I firmly believe that we are getting close to some answers.”
“With the coordinated efforts [of] Corona, the media, getting the police to do something, and my private investigator, I’m confident that we’re going to have answers soon.”
Ruth Bayang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.