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Family of murdered woman holds anniversary vigil; after 17 years, suspect still at-large

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Posted at 4:46 PM, Nov 19, 2015
and last updated 2015-11-19 18:46:47-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- Trisha Beristain was shot down in cold blood and later found by hunters in Big Cottonwood Canyon, and, even though it happened 17 years ago, her family refuses to let the memory fade.

Police said they know who killed the 19-year-old, but that man has managed to stay a step ahead of the law all of this time.

Every year now, on the anniversary of her murder, family and friends gather near the crime scene up Big Cottonwood Canyon to remember Trisha and to pray for justice.

On a chilly November night, many arrived with hot coffee and warm coats, and nearly all had candles as a way to pay tribute to their friend, sister and daughter.

Some who attended weren't even born when Trisha Beristain was murdered, very near this spot, back in 1998, but her dad says all were touched by her in some way.

"Trisha's not here with us physically,” Fred Beristain said. “But, she shares our life every day, so it's a celebration and gathering of her friends and family to remember the life that Trish lived with us, even though it was cut short."

Trish was allegedly murdered by Jesse Vega.

According to police, Vega was seeing Beristain at the time, but had become jealous over her friendship with another male. Ultimately, they say he drove her up the canyon and shot her to death in a fit of rage.

Detectives recovered enough evidence to charge Vega with murder, but he fled Utah before they could arrest him. And, he hasn't been seen since, despite being profiled on America’s Most Wanted.

Despite the fact the case has grown cold, Fred Beristain said this gathering is vital in keeping the focus on Trisha and not the man who allegedly killed her.

“We gave him too much power and too much of our lives by thinking about him getting caught and justice and this and that, so we've decided to dismiss that, and now it's about her and the impact she had on our lives,” he said.

Meanwhile, the search for Vega goes on.

"At some point, he may have let his guard down, he may have said something to somebody, maybe somebody out there now has information that we didn't have before, and he's not as tight-lipped about it,” said Lt. Lex Bell of the Unified Police Department. “Maybe he feels like he got away with it, so time can help us in that regard."

Police are still checking out any tips and leads that come in on this case, and if you happen to know anything regarding the whereabouts of Jesse Vega, you're asked to call Unified police at 801-743-7000.