MISSOURI CITY, TX — On November 7, 2002, 17-year-old Christopher Daigle went to his high school in Missouri City — and vanished without a trace.
Had he run away? Was he kidnapped? Could he have been suicidal? For almost a decade, police investigated hundreds of leads and went down dozens of rabbit holes, but had no idea what happened to him.
In the morning, Chris, a tall, handsome, and popular high school junior, left for Hightower High as usual. When he failed to come home that night, his family assumed that he had spent the night with friends. But by the next morning, when Chris had still not been in contact, his family contacted friends — and then the police.
Chris had spoken to several friends that day. One of them was Richard “Ricky” Mendoza, who played with Chris on the baseball team. Ricky told police that he and Chris had been hanging out at the mall and met girls. He claimed that his mother told him that he had to go home, so he left Chris in their company.
For a long time, police — and many members of Chris’ family — believed that he may have simply run away. They explained that Chris had been devastated after getting kicked off of the baseball team four months earlier, and his grandmother Wanda, with whom he had lived with since he was three years old, told investigators that he had been depressed on the way to school that last morning.
“I thought he just took off, that he and his friends had gone for the beach for a few days,” said Samantha Talley, Chris’ aunt. Jen Hayes, Chris’ half sister, said that she hung “Missing” posters in town, but admitted that part of her believed that her half brother would eventually turn up.
Rumors began to circulate that Chris had run away to Oklahoma, moved North, or was in trouble with a bad group of people who had kidnapped him.
But through it all, there was no trace of Chris. After a few weeks, his family began to believe the worst — that someone may have killed him. “It makes you crazy,” Talley said.Several years passed with no new leads. Every year, Chris’ family would put his Christmas present in a box, and his grandmother kept his room just the way it was in case he came home.
Chris’ mom Tracy Gregory said that she never stopped looking for answers. She took a job at a bar and said that she would try to subtly quiz teens who came in about Chris’ disappearance. One day, she met a young woman in a bar who implied she may know something about Chris’ disappearance. Tracy encouraged the young woman to tell detectives her story.
The young woman told police that she was in a car with Ricky Mendoza, and that he had told her that he killed Chris and, when she said she didn’t believe him, told her that he would show her where the body was buried. The young woman took police to the field and showed them where Ricky had driven her — but they failed to find a body.
But in 2011, Missouri City detectives reopened the case, and tracked down another of Chris’ friends named Josh. Josh told police that Ricky had looked into a classroom and saw his girlfriend of two years kissing Chris. At that moment, Chris’ fate was sealed. Investigators believe that Ricky, jealous of Chris’ popularity and good looks, became enraged.
A few days after the incident in the classroom, Josh said Ricky picked up him, Daigle, and David Garcia, supposedly to pick mushrooms. But when they went out to the field in Fort Bend County, Ricky shot Daigle in the back of the head with a 12-gauge shotgun. Josh told police he saw Chris’ eyes roll back in his head, and that there was blood everywhere.Josh’s account was corroborated by Garcia. Garcia told the two detectives that Ricky had forced them to help hide Chris’ body, and he was able to lead them to the field where the remains were buried.
Investigators searched the area, and found human bones — later determined to be Daigle’s through DNA testing — along with a handgun.
On August 12, 2011, Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrested Mendoza. He was charged with murder in Daigle’s death, but the road to justice encountered another speed bump after a district attorney in Fort Bend County forgot to file some paperwork in the 90 days following Mendoza’s arrest. As a result, Mendoza was set free on bail.
In 2013, Mendoza, then 28, was finally convicted by a jury and sentenced to 50 years in prison. He was also ordered to pay a $10,000 fine.
To learn more about this case, watch the “Field of Broken Dreams” episode of Investigation Discovery’s Gone on ID GO now!
Main photos: Christopher Daigle at 17 and age progressed to 22 [National Center for Missing & Exploited Children]