A Grieving Mother's Warning: The Tragic Tale of Mercedes Vega’s Murder

Mercedes Vega
GoFundMe - Erika Pillsbury

Erika Pillsbury isn't giving up on justice being served.

One year following her daughter's tragic murder, she bravely recounts the harrowing tale, seeking justice for her loss and striving to enhance safety for women in the Phoenix and Tempe areas.

Erika Pillsbury Shares Her Heartbreaking Story To Help Others Stay Safe

Erika Pillsbury
TikTok | Erika Pillsbury

Pillsbury shares her story on TikTok in the hopes that one day they find Vega's murderer as well as to help alert women who live in the Phoenix area of the dangers that lurk.

Pillsbury recalled the day she found out her daughter, 22, was kidnapped and murdered.

"At about 7 p.m. on April 17, 2023, I heard a knock on the door. I thought it was strange because the doorbell didn't ring. I looked through the peephole and saw two men standing there. I could see the badge around the neck of one of them," Pillsbury told The Blast exclusively.

"I assumed it had something to do with my neighbors who occasionally had some domestic issues, and they were there to ask if we had seen or heard anything."

But when she opened the door, one of the men, Detective Jacob Ray, asked if Mercedes Vega lived there. Pillsbury said, "No, but I am her mom. Is she okay?"

"Detective Ray then asked if he could come in and I repeated asking, 'Is she okay?' The detective asked again if they could come in. Once again I repeated, 'Is Mercedes okay?'" she recalled. "He finally replied to me, 'Sorry, no ma'am, she's deceased."

At that point, detectives were trying to figure out what happened to Vega and didn't really have any answers for Pillsbury and her husband, and left shortly after breaking the tragic news. But before leaving, they asked three questions: was she right or left-handed, her home address, and did she have any reason to be near Tonopah, AZ?

"My husband and I just sat there having no idea why our child was gone, where her body was, what she went through, or how she was killed. Our other children began to show up at our house and my husband picked up his phone and looked up Tonopah, AZ. The very first article that popped up in his phone stated, 'Young adult female found burned in the back of a vehicle,'" she explained. "That was it, there was nothing else."

The following morning, the paper had another story but this time added her name - Mercedes Marianna Vega.

Erika Pillsbury Later Learned More About What Happened To Her Daughter

Erika Pillsbury's daughter Mercedes Vega
Contributed Photo | Erika Pillsbury

Not long after Pillsbury learned the heartbreaking news of her daughter's passing, she received a phone call from the Tempe Police Department asking her to move her vehicle, which caused some confusion.

"I had cosigned for Mercedes' car so the registration was in my name. The officer on the phone stated, 'Ma'am, you're not allowed to park here.' I was so confused. I thought it was some sort of sick joke. At this point, I thought my daughter was burned in her own vehicle," Pillsbury told The Blast.

"The gentleman on the phone could tell I was in shock. The officer then asked me, "Has this vehicle been involved in a homicide?' This is when I learned that it wasn't my daughter's car she was found burned in."

After calling the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, she found out that her daughter was found in a burning vehicle, hit over the head, had "blunt force trauma to her body" and was shot in her arm, and then "burned alive."

It wasn't until six months later that the autopsy report was released and Pillsbury was informed that bleach was found in Vega's throat and the "force trauma occurred more than one time."

Erika Pillsbury Shared A Warning On TikTok For Women In The Phoenix Area

While Pillsbury still has no answers to who did this to her daughter, she's holding onto hope that justice will be served one day. In the meantime, she's spreading messages for other women to be safe by sharing Vega's story.

"I'm the mother of Mercedes Vega, and I need the people of the Phoenix area to be aware that my child's killers are still at large. They're still preying on the young women of Tempe," she said in a TikTok video. "They're still out there."

She then shared a warning to not allow young girls to be alone in the city.

"The vile, horrific, disgusting torture of my child has not been important enough for people to share it, but I'm gonna share it now," she continued. "There are people out there preying on your children. They're watching them. They're learning their patterns. They're planning horrible things to do to your child."

She also warned parents about the dangers around Arizona State University's campus. She asked parents to reevaluate where their children are, saying that if they're in Tempe, they "are not safe."

Her video went on to share the fear, emotion, and important message Pillsbury has for parents and children in the Tempe area.

Pillsbury shared many other videos on TikTok with Vega's story and pleas for women to stay safe.

There Was A Protest In Mercedes Vega's Honor On The First Anniversary Of Her Murder

Mercedes Vega protest
Contributed Photo | Erika Pillsbury

On April 17, one year to the day that Vega was murdered, the community came together to protest on her behalf.

"It felt good to scream for justice for my daughter," Pillsbury told The Blast. "My daughter deserves justice."

Pillsbury feels that the protest made a statement to the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.

"I'm hoping we made the statement that every woman matters. I am hoping this propels some answers, maybe some assistance to MCSO, and further progresses the investigation," she continued. "The people who abducted, abused, shot, kidnapped, tortured, and burned my child deserves to face the death penalty. They need to be taken off the street. They need to pay for their actions. They need to not be around society in any respect."

In addition to the protest, the family set up a GoFundMe page with more information on how people can help.

Erika Pillsbury's Message To The World After Losing Her Beloved Daughter

Erika Pillsbury's daughter Mercedes Vega
Contributed Photo | Erika Pillsbury

Pillsbury said she could not explain the feeling of finding out that her daughter was gone.

"Not that it is any comparison to any other parent who lost a child but when you know that a person decided to take your child's life, it might make you just a little bit more angry," she said. "The world is at a loss without Mercedes. She was such a bright light for so many people. She was always so kind and helpful. I miss her laugh. I miss her smile. I miss her. I miss holding her hand. I miss hearing her voice. I miss her hugs."

She also said that there's a "certain kind of scream that a mother lets out when their child is taken," and she unfortunately knows that scream too well.

Despite her pain, she has the strength to warn others of the dangers lurking in her area.

"Please tell your 20-something-year-old children who live near Tempe or live in Phoenix who go to ASU about Mercedes. She is not the only one this has happened to and she won't be the only one," Pillsbury said.

"Please tell them to pay extra special attention to their surroundings at all times. Avoid parking garages! Do not walk to your car alone. Carry a taser. Carry a gun and learn to use it. Learn self-defense. Be vigilant and be safe."