‘Like she just vanished’: Bronx grandma fighting cancer disappears after visiting bodega

The Missing

MORRIS HEIGHTS, the Bronx — The daughter of a Bronx grandmother who’s waged a five year battle against cancer appealed for information regarding her July disappearance, nearly four months after Elena de la Cruz vanished during a trip to the grocery store for snacks.

“It was 11:30 at night when she left a message,” her daughter, Taina Roper, recalled to PIX11 News. “And she walked out the door. The cameras from her building showed that she turned left.”

Roper said her 62-year-old mother was going to get snacks at her favorite deli a block away on Grand Avenue, near Macombs, in the Morris Heights section of the Bronx. 

De la Cruz enjoyed watching late-night TV thrillers.

But the woman didn’t return to Hill House, the apartment building at 1616 Grand Avenue that offers specialized housing to women in need of assistance. De la Cruz often dealt with a social worker in the building and sometimes didn’t call her two daughters for days at a time.

“Four days passed, and one of her social workers called and said, ‘Have you seen your mom?'” Roper said.

De la Cruz’s sister and niece live in the Bronx, and Roper claimed a local police officer initially resisted filing a missing person report, because de la Cruz is an adult. Several days later, Roper said the family insisted a report be filed.

“My family said, ‘It’s very important!  She’s sick, she’s hard of hearing,'” Roper remembered.

By the time a report was filed,  many of the street and store cameras had recorded over images from the week of July 9, when Elena de la Cruz disappeared.

Cameras in Hill House’s lobby showed de la Cruz, wearing a blonde wig she’d donned due to cancer treatment, leaving the building about 11:30 p.m.

When PIX11 News visited La Dura Food Market on Grand Avenue, one of the managers said, “She’s coming every day before, but now, long time we don’t see her.”

De la Cruz  has always been proud of her Puerto Rican heritage, and although she was born in Manhattan, she speaks little English.

She enjoyed spending time with her daughters and grandchildren.

“Loving!” Tania Roper said, when asked to describe her mother. “She helps the kids learn Spanish. She cleans and cooks with the kids.”

Five years ago, during a visit to see her daughter, de la Cruz said her breast was hurting.

Elena de la Cruz was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy.

“Four or five years she was good,” Roper said, “until last year, 2020.”

Roper told PIX11 News the cancer had spread and was stage 4.

“My mother was battling lung cancer, kidney cancer, bone cancer, and breast cancer,” Roper said.

Roper’s husband, who serves in the military, was being called to a tour of duty in Afghanistan, so de la Cruz stayed with her daughter at Fort Drum in upstate New York while receiving chemotherapy treatment at nearby Walker Cancer Center.

De la Cruz eventually returned to Hill House in the Bronx, while her daughter, Tania, went back to Virginia. Another daughter already lives in the Bronx.

But in recent months, Roper has been unable to fathom her mother’s disappearance.

“It’s like she just vanished off the Planet Earth,” Roper said.

She and her sister just want to bring their mother home.

De la Cruz’s photos are featured on the Twitter feed for NYPD Missing Persons Squad.

Submit tips to police by calling Crime Stoppers at 1-800-577-TIPS (8477), visiting crimestoppers.nypdonline.org, downloading the NYPD Crime Stoppers mobile app, or texting 274637 (CRIMES) then entering TIP577. Spanish-speaking callers are asked to dial 1-888-57-PISTA (74782).

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