As the tight-knit community of Osceola County, Florida mourns last week’s brutal murder of Nicole Montalvo, Sheriff Russ Gibson is left wondering if and how the justice system failed the young mother and longtime victim of domestic violence.
The state of the body, he said, is in one of the worst conditions he has ever seen and the cause of death is still yet to be determined.
“I’m so angry what these people have done to this sweet woman, at a time in her life when she felt as though she had finally broken free (from the relationship) and was so happy to have made her first month’s rent,” Gibson told Fox News in an exclusive interview on the case. “Many times, victims of domestic violence don’t know how to break free, but she was out there on her own getting it done. Now she is dead.”
The 33-year-old, a smiling employee at Broadway Pizza Bar in downtown Kissimmee, was reported missing last Wednesday after having dropped their 8-year-old son Elijah off at his father's home in St. Cloud on Monday, but did not return to collect him. Investigators discovered human remains at a property belonging to Montalvo’s in-laws on Friday; authorities confirmed the identity of the remains as Montalvo two days later.
Montalvo’s estranged husband and the father of their son, Christopher Otero-Rivera, 31, and his father Angel Luis Rivera, 63, were arrested that same day on unrelated charges. After the grim confirmation on Sunday, the men were charged with premeditated murder and are currently being held at the Osceola County Jail without bond.
According to Gibson, the remains – which are still being examined by the coroner – were "disassembled", and the situation so far marks the worst he has seen in his 32 years as a homicide detective and sheriff.
“When this autopsy is done, people are going to be horrified,” he continued, noting that autopsy results are expected next week.
But this was hardly the first allegedly savage encounter Montalvo had faced at the hands of Otero-Rivera, with whom she had filed for divorce. According to court filings, Montalvo sought the help of law enforcement on numerous occasions, and incidences of violence had escalated over several years.
She is said to have first filed for a restraining order in June 2016, alleging that her husband attacked their son, who was 5 years old at the time.
Photos of Montalvo sporting bruises and a neck brace were also included in court petitions, according to the Orlando Sentinel. The paper also reported that Montalvo had indicated in filings that Otero-Rivera had previously been involuntarily committed to hospital under the state’s Baker’s Act, which allows a 72-hold for those believed to be a danger to themselves or others.
Yet the worst incident came in October 2018. Montalvo told law enforcement that Otero-Rivera texted her about an urgent breakdown with his truck and that he needed a ride. However, he then led her to a barren area where another car with an awaiting female – identified as Toni Rocker and known to Montalvo – pulled up.
Montalvo was subsequently dragged from her vehicle and thrown to the ground. After her husband purportedly stuffed a cloth in her mouth and attempted to break her neck, Rocker was accused of holding a knife to her throat and threatening to kill her if she told anyone about the attack.
The pair were arrested.
Rocker, 31, went to trial on charges of kidnapping, robbery, and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon but was acquitted by a jury in April. According to Gibson, she is not a suspect in Montalvo’s murder and has cooperated with investigators.
Meanwhile, Otero-Rivera pled no contest to hindering a witness’s ability to communicate with law enforcement, unlawful possession of a credit or debit card, and battery. The more serious charges of kidnapping, robbery, and aggravated assault were dropped in the agreement.
After serving just eight months behind bars, he was released on two years of probation – which included wearing an ankle bracelet for monitoring.
Moreover, Otero-Rivera was banned from communicating with Montalvo except for in a parenting cellphone application but has since been charged with violating a no-contact order after admitting to calling her. His father, a convicted felon, was initially apprehended Friday on charges of unlawful weapons and ammunition possession.
“This is a person who already tried to snap Nicole’s neck, and he took this plea deal,” Gibson lamented. “Domestic violence should not be a misdemeanor; they should be a felony. If weapons are used, they can be enhanced to a felony. But anything domestic violence-related should be moved to a felony.”
The homicide investigation remains ongoing, and could potentially extend to other missing persons, Gibson said. Neither suspects in Montalvo's murder are said to be co-operating with the investigation.
Gibson and several members of law enforcement joined Montalvo’s family and dozens of mourners at St. Cloud’s Lakefront Park for a candlelight vigil Monday night not only to remember the treasured life of Nicole but to illuminate the deep and dark plight victims of domestic violence walk through day after day.
“We need our prosecutors to take this case seriously,” Gibson told Fox News. “We will be a voice for the voiceless. We will have justice for Nicole.”