Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Drowned woman’s family inquires about delay in learning of her death

Albuquerque police stationed along the North Diversion Channel in El Pueblo after a woman was swept away in a flash flood on July 27th. Paula Martin-Welsh’s body was recovered the next day. (Robert Browman / )

Paula Martin-Welsh had a hard life.

Her mother died by suicide when Paula was in her early twenties. Then she lost a newborn son.

Paula Martin-Welsh (Courtesy Roberta Martin-Welsh)

She fell into drug use, her younger sisters said, but she was funny and caring – a “child at heart” who “lit up humor in everything she went through” and “loved makeup and anything shiny”.

On July 27, aged 34, Paula was in an arroyo when a sudden storm swept over town. At the time, officials said callers saw a man and woman retrieve their belongings and backpacks from the Arroyo near Wyoming and Harper, and the woman was hit by floods. Paula was carried away by the flood and her body was recovered the next day from the washout of the North Diversion Channel near Fourth Street and Roy Avenue.

Paula was the fourth person to drown in a flash flood in a week. Three men were swept away in an earlier flood.

Paula was taken to the medical investigator’s office, which performed an autopsy two days later. A report listing her name as Paula Welsh said she died from drowning – an accident – and that “taking methamphetamine put her at increased risk of drowning and the chance of death in such an incident.”

At the beginning of September, Roberta Martin-Welsh reported her missing after she had not heard from her sister for months.

An official taped the report on Sept. 4 – and found that Roberta had spoken to people her sister was hanging out with and they hadn’t seen her – and put Paula Martin-Welsh’s name on the NCIC database.

At this point, Paula’s body had been with OMI for more than a month. But it wasn’t until the beginning of November, say her sisters, that another family member, her aunt, was told that she was there.

Now Roberta and her sister Melissa are wondering why it took so long.

“We literally only found out about the body and everything about her death … months after I filed the missing person report,” Roberta said in a telephone interview. “Which doesn’t make sense.”

And now the family is trying to get her body out of the facility. A Go Fund Me they founded in November said OMI is taking storage fees for the corpse on a daily basis and it will cost over $ 3,500 just to claim her corpse and then the funeral expenses. The family raised $ 650 from a $ 6,000 goal.

Rebecca Atkins, an Albuquerque Police Department spokeswoman, said that when a person is reported missing, “the logs are as follows, but are not limited to checking all police databases, local hospitals and homeless shelters to see if there is any evidence of it there where she could “. be found or a new police contact. “

It’s unclear whether anyone from APD spoke to anyone at OMI, but Atkins said, “APD’s missing persons division has a good working relationship with OMI regarding the search for unidentified or identified bodies.”

She said they usually notify the police when medical investigators identify a person they can’t find in order to find the next of kin, but at the time of the Welsh woman’s death, she had not yet been reported missing.

An OMI spokesman did not answer specific questions about whether OMI staff asked local police if a person was reported missing or how investigators identified Paula’s aunt as her closest relative rather than her sister.

“The medical investigator’s office uses various search engines to find legal relatives and uses various methods to notify legal relatives,” wrote spokesman Mark Rudi in an email. “OMI also works with local law enforcement agencies on missing person reports.”

Roberta said she was grateful to be able to spend time with her older sister as she lived with her shortly before she died. She remembers her as a growing mother figure – as someone who always provided food and clothes.

“She was sober for a while, we were fine, but she wanted to go to the park and do what she wanted, she didn’t like the rules and everything else you know,” said Roberta. “I took her to a park, but I kept her things with me. I made sure that she ate, showered, charged her cell phone and did laundry at home. “

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