Details of Disappearance
Nicholas was last seen at his family's residence in the 100 block of Rock Valley in San Antonio, Texas on October 23, 2001. He resided there with his mother, Priscilla Ann Plaza; her boyfriend, Ruben Zavala Jr.; and Zavala's mother, Celia Ramos. He has never been heard from again. He was not reported missing until November 21.
After Nicholas went missing, Zavala gave an interview with the media where he stated that the child was deceased and that he and Priscilla were both to blame for his death, as they did not get medical attention for him.
Zavala stated that he and Priscilla had wrapped Nicholas's body in garbage bags and placed it in a garbage bin behind a bank. He told investigators that Nicholas had been sick for months and one night he simply stopped breathing and could not be revived.
Zavala led authorities to the alley along Rock Valley Drive where he claimed he had disposed of the boy's remains, but nothing was found there in spite of an extensive search.
Court documents stated that Nicholas had been "tortured" and sexually abused for months before his presumed death. Zavala told police that Priscilla was an alcoholic and an unfit parent; Priscilla stated that Zavala had abused Nicholas physically and sexually and would not let her get medical help for the child.
Priscilla ended her relationship with Zavala after Nicholas vanished and moved out of the home she shared with him. In 2006, Zavala was first charged with abusing Nicholas, then with murdering him.
Priscilla was charged with injury to a child by omission. She later pleaded guilty to the charges against her and agreed to testify against Zavala. She admitted she knowingly failed to protect her son from Zavala's abuse.
Prosecutors decided not to try Zavala for Nicholas's murder; instead, he was tried for injury to a child, which is easier to prove.
In her testimony at Zavala's trial in the summer of 2007, Priscilla stated the last time she saw Nicholas he was in very poor physical condition: he could not walk due to an ankle injury, his hair was falling out, his genitals were blue-colored and swollen, red spots covered his body and he appeared to be pale and weak. Priscilla stated she wanted to take her son to a hospital, but Zavala convinced her not to.
Priscilla said she and Zavala went to the movies together, and when they returned, Ramos told her Child Protective Services (CPS) had taken Nicholas to a hospital. Priscilla did not report her son missing for over a month because she says she believed Ramos's story.
CPS had not, in fact, taken custody of Nicholas, and Ramos denies telling Priscilla they had. Ramos stated she was unaware of the child's absence for several weeks, although he lived with her, and confirmed that he had been very sick prior to going missing.
Zavala was convicted of injury to a child in July 2007 and was sentenced to 67 years in prison. Priscilla got 20 years in prison.
Nicholas has never been found, but foul play is suspected in his case due to the circumstances involved.