KAKE News is hoping to shed new light on unsolved cases across KAKEland. 

A relatively new project also doing the same is the Kansas Cold Case Playing Cards Deck. The deck features 52 cases, including unsolved homicides, missing persons and unidentified remains cases. The cards have been circulating for about a year throughout jails and correctional facilities in Kansas. The deck aims to generate new tips and leads on cases profiled within the cards.

Ernie Ortiz's case is an unsolved homicide the Garden City Police Department is working on and is the only one GCPD has in the deck. The department has had 9 homicides in the last 5 years. Mr. Ortiz' is one of three of those that remain unsolved. 

Investigators say someone knows something in each of the cases featured in the deck, but they need the public’s help.

“... Not just with Ernie’s case, but look through the deck. They are not just faces, these are people with stories and loved ones and attachments with them. Even if it’s just one case that gets solved through this playing deck, it will be successful. It’s really important that not only Ernie’s case, but everyone’s case in this deserved to be looked at and researched and at least, if there is any information out there with his, or any of the cases, to come forth," Erinn Reyes, the Public Information Officer for the Garden City Police Department said.

Mr. Ortiz’s case was submitted by the Garden City Police Department and was selected for this project. It's something the Kansas Department of Corrections and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, along with other agencies, have developed. You can find the Kansas Department of Corrections news release on the cards by clicking here.

No one seems to know who is responsible for the death of Ernie Ortiz.

“We just want some answers," Ernie Ortiz's nephew, Alex Ramos, says.

He was everyone’s ‘favorite uncle’, including Ramos'.

“This loss has not only affected our family, but also the community of Garden City," Ramos shares. "It hurts. There are still a lot of open wounds and things we are trying to get answers from."

The Ortiz family is one that never thought it would have a loved one featured in this kind of deck. Especially featuring a name they know and deeply love beside the words… 'homicide victim.' 

“Never thought that I would have any connection to someone that would be on those playing cards, let alone our favorite uncle, uncle Ernie Ortiz, someone that had just such a big outreach in the community of Garden City and such a positive influence in so many different lives," Ramos said. 

THE GARDEN CITY NATIVE

Ernie was one of 14 children from a well-known western Kansas family.

“We know that in order to get justice, it’s going to take all of us," Ramos said. 

He was a business owner, someone's son, a brother, and a friend to so many. He was also known for his contribution and mentorship of local youth. 

“This man gives a lot of his time and is dedicated to his community. Why would somebody do this?" Reyes shared.

ERNIE'S DEATH INVESTIGATION -- WHAT HAPPENED?

Over the last three and a half years, investigators, the family, and the community have been desperate for answers on why this happened and who is responsible.  

On September 12 2019, Garden City Police responded to the area of Buffalo Jones Avenue and Bancroft Street for a reported person down in the parking lot of the El Conquistador restaurant.

The male located was restaurant-owner and well-known Garden City native, Ernie Ortiz. He had gunshot wounds. Those wounds would later prove to be fatal. Mr. Ortiz died at the hospital. 

GCPD says the preliminary investigation revealed that this could be a possible robbery. It's an idea they continue to work on, but most say, none of it really even makes sense, given the man involved, the city, and the degree of the crime.

Erinn Reyes, the Public Information Officer with GCPD, says the department made an arrest in relation to Mr. Ortiz's death a few days after his passing, but charges were later dropped. Reyes has been with the department for 5 years. 

“Ultimately, the Finney County Attorney’s Office reviewed everything that was presented and cited a 'lack of insufficient evidence' for that," Reyes with GCPD said.

RESTAURANT CLOSED

KAKE News visited the El Conquistador restaurant back when it was still open. It's now a different restaurant with a different name and under new ownership.

For Sue Knight, a staff member at the Finney County Senior Center gets emotional as she recalls what used to be.

“It’s just one of those freaky things that happened… it was sad," she said. "I was hoping they would keep it open."

Knight also recalls when the restaurant was called 'El Conquistador' and when it was the Ortiz’.

“I go by there a lot because I live over in that area… I could almost cry every time I drive by there… it's just sad," she said. "I just think it was something that shouldn’t have happened... but it did, but we don’t know why and to happen to such a good guy.”

For Ramos, he's reminded of all the beautiful moments he remembers from the restaurant and the fellowship he and his family had there. 

“It is uneasy to think about that his last moments were there, but also in a sense, that’s what he worked for. That was one of the things he was passionate about with so many other things in his life that he was passionate about… was his restaurant," Ramos said. 

SENIOR CENTER'S TRIBUTE ETCHED 

Nearly half a mile away from the restaurant, is the Finney County Senior Center. A center is a place where Ernie Ortiz is certainly missed. 

Knight says Ernie and his band would play at the center every third Wednesday of the month... just like clockwork. 

“Something that we could have here to honor his memory…," she said as she shared why a bench honoring the Garden City man greets you as you walk in. 

The Ortiz Band still plays at the center to this day.

“We all loved him and miss him. I was proud to know him," Knight added. 

HIS CASE... STILL UNSOLVED

“Still to this day, with his case, people are still in disbelief that it hasn’t been solved. We know that somebody knows something." Reyes shared. “It was a huge loss and it's been a huge loss and just so many unanswered questions from that that we continue to work diligently to answer.”

Reyes and Ramos both echo the same thing -- someone has what investigators are looking for.

“There are still so many unanswered questions that we still don’t know the answers to. That is one of the biggest shocks… is we don’t know who...  who would have done this, but we do know that there is someone out there that does have some answers that could lead to the arrest and prosecution of someone responsible for this," Ramos said.

For anyone who may have what investigators need, Gregory Calzonetti says, you should clear your conscious.

“Just think about it. You are having that weight on your shoulder every day knowing that you have this information that you could pass on," Calzonetti said.

Unfortunately, investigators can't bring Mr. Ortiz back, but with the public's assistance, they can help bring his family some answers. 

"... giving his family some closure, some answers to those why, why, why, did this happen… you know they ask themselves that every day, but ultimately getting someone behind bars and prosecuted and paying for what they did," Reyes said.

LASTING FRIENDSHIPS

Gregory Calzonetti doesn't know why anyone would want Ernie gone. 

"It's strange that he’s not around," he said.

He also says shootings and a crime of this magnitude do not happen often in Garden City.

"It was really a big surprise. That did happen because it doesn’t happen a lot in Garden City... to have a shooting," he said.

He recalls when he heard the news.

"It started to get around town really quickly that he was shot. It was devastating and then find out he passed away. It was an unbelievable and devastating loss for me, my family, and our community. It was hard."

FACEBOOK PAGE SEEKING JUSTICE

The family created a 'Justice for Ernie Ortiz' Facebook page two years after his death.

“We will continue to seek justice as long as it takes. Whether it’s another 2, 3, 5, 10 years... we know that as we keep moving forward, he’s going to move forward with us," Ramos said.

His family introduced a GoFundMe account through the page. Funds donated will go towards the Crime Stoppers reward. 

The reward collection recently received a $10,000 private donation and now sits at $21,500. 

Crime Stoppers will pay up to $21,500 for the information leading to the arrest and conviction of the suspect(s) in this case.

In 2022, the Ortiz family was the first to partner with Crime Stoppers in Garden City for a reward going to a specific case. 

Through the page, the family hopes to raise awareness of this unsolved murder, all while seeking justice for their loved one. 

“He is well missed and loved… I hope they find somebody that did it…," Knight shared.

"Ernie was a lifelong resident of Garden City. An accomplished musician, his talent spanned a variety of musical genres and he was the renowned leader of Los Hermanos Ortiz y Amigos. Ernie was a respected businessman and community leader who also dedicated time to his church. He loved his hometown and was a big supporter of Garden City’s youth and activities. The role he played in the Ortiz family was unmatched as he was often referred to as both the “favorite” uncle and cousin. He is dearly missed," the GoFundMe page reads.

COLD CASE CARDS

One wouldn’t call being a member of this deck exciting in any way, but it’s the powerful exposure Alex Ramos’ uncle’s case can get with these cards, that have his eyes full of hope.

“There are a lot of emotions seeing this, but overall it's very positive to see this because this is an action step to get us the justice that we are seeking for our uncle.”

We showed him his uncle's card for the first time.

Ernie represents the deck’s Five of Hearts. It's a fitting feat, his family says.

"... because his heart was one of the biggest I’ve ever met and he certainly instilled that into his family and his friends," Ramos said.

70th BIRTHDAY STILL CELEBRATED

He had a big heart to go with some big plans all for his 70th birthday. It was a day in the works to be celebrated that upcoming November, but he died just two months before. He was 69 years old when he passed.

“It was to honor his life, but it was still uneasy," Ramos said on the celebration.

The community, along with friends and family got together anyway and celebrated perhaps in a way that was most familiar and in a way he may have wanted.

“That’s his band. Some of my aunts.. his sisters were with them. A lot of the make-up of the gentleman in the band were his brothers also. They were very happy they could honor him and play for him that night," Ramos said as he talked over a photo that was taken during Ernie's birthday gathering.

The photo is the group holding a framed photo of their beloved family member.

“He should have been celebrating his birthday with all of us together," Ramos said.

DO YOU KNOW WHAT HAPPENED?

Tips big and small are encouraged. You can also remain anonymous if you would like.

You are asked to call 1-800-KS-CRIME (1-800-572-7463) or the Garden City Police Department at (620) 276-1300, if you know anything that could help investigators with this case and help the family understand what may have happened.

If you would like to remain anonymous, you can call Crime Stoppers at (620) 275-7807.