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Missing Texas woman found dead; man in custody on suspicion of murder, police say

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Posted at 10:49 PM, May 21, 2023

MIDLAND, Texas — A 20-year-old woman who had been missing for more than a week in western Texas was found dead Saturday, and a man has been arrested in connection with her killing, police said.

Madeline Pantoja was reported missing on May 11, vanishing with her phone and car still at her home in Midland, according to the Midland Police Department. Her disappearance kick-started a dayslong search that involved multiple law enforcement agencies.

Her remains were found in a rural area southeast of the city limits nine days after she was reported missing, police announced Saturday.

Hours after the discovery, 24-year-old Mario Juan Chacon, Jr. was arrested on suspicion of murder in Pantoja’s death on Saturday afternoon, according to Midland Police.

He is being held without bond as of Saturday night at the Midland County Jail, police said. CNN is working to determine if Chacon has an attorney.

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Mario Juan Chacon, Jr. is seen in a booking photo.

Few details were made available by authorities Saturday, including what led police to suspect Chacon in the woman’s death or whether he knew the victim previously.

The investigation into Pantoja’s death is ongoing and an autopsy will be performed in Dallas, Midland Police said.

The search for Pantoja had been operating “on a 24-hour basis” over the past week, Midland Police Chief Seth Herman said in a press conference Friday, with the FBI, the Texas Rangers, the Department of Homeland Security and the Midland County Sheriff’s Office joining the investigation.

Air and ground crews racing to find the young woman had searched about 60 square miles of remote property, Herman said.

Over a dozen search warrants were also issued and more than 25 people were interviewed as investigators searched for Pantoja, the chief added.

Before Pantoja was found dead, Midland Mayor Lori Blong announced Friday a $20,000 reward for information that would lead to her whereabouts.

“I cannot imagine the stress and the concern and worry of Madeline’s family and friends as they’ve gone through this ordeal,” the mayor said during Friday’s news conference. Police did not say Saturday whether that reward is being claimed.