Mystery of couple’s murder still lingers
Pair left Scottsdale in 2003, were found dead in pickup
It’s been 14 years since Lisa Gurrieri and her boyfriend, Brandon Rumbaugh, embarked on an overnight camping trip to celebrate their oneyear anniversary.
They’d planned to re-create their first date and go stargazing along a pleasant-sounding road not far off Interstate 17 north of Phoenix.
A decade-and-a-half later, loved ones are still wondering who murdered Gurrieri, 19, and Rumbaugh, 20, in the back of a pickup truck parked off Bumble Bee Road in Yavapai County.
Their killer was never identified. The double homicide remains unsolved.
And loved ones are left wondering, hopeful still that someone, somewhere will remember something that might bring them closure and deliver some semblance of justice.
“There’s no reason why these two kids that were loved by so many should be where they are,” Paula Gurrieri, Lisa’s mother, told reporters Saturday. “These kids are no longer breathing. They’re in the ground somewhere. And the person that did this is out there breathing every single day.”
“It’s not fair. It’s just not fair.”
Lisa Gurrieri was known to light up a room simply by being present.
She worked at SRP and was known among family and friends as the employee who could brighten anyone’s day — it was a running joke that she would enthusiastically say “good morning” to every person she saw.
A Mesa High School graduate, Lisa wanted to become a wedding planner. She was inspired by the film “The Wedding Planner,” starring Jennifer Lopez and Matthew McConaughey.
“She was beautiful, both inside and out,” Paula Gurrieri said.
Rumbaugh, a student at Arizona State University, built himself up from a tall, skinny kid to a muscular man with aspirations of opening a gym one day. He was working as a physical trainer, The Arizona Republic reported in the days after the killing.
They lived together in Scottsdale. Lisa Gurrieri told her mother they were engaged, though Mom hadn’t yet seen a ring.
“He treated her like a queen,” Paula Gurrieri said. “He really did.”
Initially, they planned to go to Disneyland for their one-year anniversary. That was too pricey for the young couple, so they settled on a camping trip about 30 miles north of Phoenix off I-17.
Lisa had never gone camping before, and her mother was reluctant to spare the 2000 white Ford F-150 pickup that was in need of an oil change.
But she let the couple borrow it anyway.
They left Friday, Oct. 17, 2003, and were to be back home by early Saturday. Rumbaugh had to work, and after a hug and motherly advice to be careful, take extra blankets and call if they needed anything, the couple headed north.
Paula Gurrieri, who still lives in Mesa, said she sensed something was wrong early in the weekend. A mother knows, she said.
After they didn’t return when they had said, friends and family searched possible camping locations. Friends suspected the spot near Bumble Bee Camp, about 2 miles from Interstate 17 near Sunset Point in Yavapai County.
Friends found the two lying dead inside sleeping bags in the truck bed, each with multiple gunshot wounds to the head. Investigators ruled out a murder-suicide, said there was no evidence of robbery or sexual assault, and that neither drugs nor alcohol was involved.
“Everybody that met her loved her,” Paula Gurrieri said Saturday. “Absolutely loved her. She didn’t know an enemy. She didn’t have one. That’s why it makes it even harder. As much as she was loved, why would somebody do this to her? It just doesn’t make any sense to us.”
In the days that followed, law enforcement fielded tips and sought leads big and small in a desperate search for answers. Police think as many as 1,000 people were staying in the area near the couple’s campsite, and investigated many of those who were around the area when the double homicide occurred.
Law enforcement also issued pleas for the public’s help, simultaneously trying to tamp down fears from campers and residents alike.
“Do we believe that it was a random act and that there is a crazy person out there? Not necessarily. Can we rule it out? Not necessarily,” one Sheriff’s Office investigator told reporters the following week.
Time ticks by
Shortly after the killing and the condolences and the funerals, Paula Gurrieri asked an investigator if she could retrieve her daughter’s personal effects — she thinks it was a cellphone, though it’s hard to remember exactly what it was a decade-and-a-half later.
The investigator said they couldn’t release it until 25 years had passed or when the case was solved. She brushed it off at the time. There’s no way it could go unsolved for so long, she thought.
“Here we are 14 years later,” she said, holding back tears. “I just hope that this is solved before I go, before I die. I want to know who did it, but it could be that it’s not going to happen because Lisa doesn’t want me to know who did it.”
Paula Gurrieri and other friends and family occasionally leave a tribute to Lisa on a memorialized Facebook page.
Sometimes Paula writes poems. Sometimes she just asks her daughter to come home.
The family is offering a reward up to $10,000 for information on the case.
Anyone with information is asked to contact Silent Witness at 480-948-6377. Anonymous tips can also be left on the Silent Witness website, silentwitness.org.
“What you may perceive as a very small puzzle piece might work very well in the detective’s overall picture of this investigation,” Sgt. Jamie Rothschild said Saturday. “So we need any information, whether it’s seemingly insignificant or huge, all that information will help.”
“These kids are no longer breathing. They’re in the ground somewhere. And the person that did this is out there breathing every single day.” PAULA GURRIERI MOTHER OF LISA GURRIERI