Case of missing Pasco man now a murder investigation

PASCO, Wash. — The Pasco Police Department has switched gears surrounding the disappearance of Nathan Rich. His case is now considered a homicide investigation.

Nathan Rich went missing

On Dec. 13, 2018, Nathan Rich, 25, was arrested on a warrant in the Tri-Cities. The next day he was released. Dec. 15 was the last day anyone saw him. Pasco Police Detective Julie Lee said one person who knows Rich told her he packed up his stuff to go back to Nevada, his home state. He’s lived in the Tri-Cities since 2016. He didn’t have a car or a way to get there.

“That is not the case. Nathan never left the Tri-Cities,” Lee said. “Any place that he had any type of connection, no one has seen him.”

He was allegedly wearing a black jacket, blue jeans, hiking boots and a Cowboys cap. He was last seen at his home on Waldemar Avenue that afternoon.

Some people called police about doing a welfare check when they didn’t hear from him. Lee said officers didn’t have enough definitive information to say that he was missing and they believed he just didn’t want to be found.

Months after Nathan Rich disappeared

Lee said family, friends and the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System contacted the Pasco Police Department in April 2019. They wanted to report Nathan Rich missing. Lee was then assigned the case and said she started to work backward.

“I determined that no one has heard from Nathan since Dec. 15, 2018,” she said.

The detective started digging. Rich was due for a court hearing in Spokane in March 2019, but he didn’t show up. According to Lee, defense attorneys told her that he was most likely going to beat the charges because the prosecution couldn’t prove the crime beyond unreasonable doubt.

Lee interviewed family and friends. With little to go off of, she filed search warrants and pulled financial records. That’s when she caught a break thanks to his EBT card.

The last time the food stamps card was used was on Dec. 15, 2018 at a Kennewick gas station at 22 Gum St. The card was then reinstated in March 2019, during the same time he was reported missing.

“To my surprise, I realized that Nathan was also a victim of fraud over the course of him being missing,” she explained. “All of those transactions were not Nathan. I was able to obtain video of those transactions and concluded who the persons were.”

Two people were arrested for the fraud in January 2020 — Mira Fitzhugh and Cory Silva.

“I definitively concluded that it was never Nathan Rich to use his welfare benefits.”

Fitzhugh was one person who reported Rich missing. She reported him missing on Dec. 31, 2018.

According to court documents, Fitzhugh and Silva applied and received Department of Social and Health Services benefits using Rich’s information in March 2019. Both of their voices could be heard on a recording with DSHS. She got his card through the mail and used it from March to September.

After serving a search warrant, the card was found in Fitzhugh’s wallet. When she was questioned, she admitted to reinstating the card and said she used all the funds that were transferred to Rich’s EBT card.

Silva was later questioned at his home. Court documents said he admitted to being involved with reinstating the card. When Lee asked Silva who he identified himself as during the phone call with DSHS, he said he believed he needed an attorney.

Both of them were charged with unlawful practices, financial fraud, false statement and identity theft. The cases are pending.

Fitzhugh and Silva have not been ruled out as persons of interest.

From missing persons case to murder investigation

Because Rich didn’t show up to court in Spokane, the fraud evidence and other details that Lee cannot discuss, she said Nathan Rich is dead. His body — somewhere in the Tri-Cities. The Franklin County Coroner has issued a death certificate.

“I can definitively tell you that Nathan is not a missing person,” Lee explained. “That Nathan is a victim of homicide, and I believe that Nathan’s body is somewhere here close by.”

Lee said through interviews, she’s narrowed down a few places as to where Rich could be buried. One is near Pasco-Kahlotus Highway. Another is Twin Rivers Park in Finley and a heavily-wooded area near Third Avenue and Chemical Drive in Kennewick.

Cadaver dogs were already brought in to look in the wooded area, but didn’t find Rich’s body.

“I wish I could bring him back to his mom alive, but I know that won’t be the case,” Lee said. “What I would like to do is bring Nathan back to his home—his remains so she can properly bury him.”

Asking for the public’s help

Police are looking for any tips that could help track down Rich. According to Lee, she believes another suspect is still out there.

“I don’t believe the person responsible for Nathan’s death did this alone,” she said. “I am going to find out what happened and those responsible will be brought to justice.”

Rich has had some run-ins with law enforcement. However, Lee said no matter your background, Rich didn’t deserve to be killed.

“It doesn’t matter what someone’s history is, no one deserves to die by the hands of another like that,” she said. “My heart hurts for his family because they don’t have closure.”

That closure — something Lee will keep fighting for.

“Please come forward because we need to bring justice for Nathan and closure to his family,” she said. “Anything that they know would be helpful.”

If you have any information, contact the Pasco Police Department at (509) 628-0333 and reference case number 19-10215.