Lidia Fazzari sobs as she recalls her son, Michael, a few days after his 20th birthday. Michael trusts everyone, and that may have led to his disappearance nearly two years ago.
“If men on the streets asked him for a ride, he would give them one,” said Lidia, a Nogales native, in Spanish. “He didn’t think anyone could do any harm to him. He wanted to help people. When he saw someone who needed money, he’d give them money. He wanted to help; he wasn’t scared.”
On Michael’s birthday, Feb. 1, the Phoenix Police Department, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and his family emphasized the need for answers.
The 2019 Pinnacle High School graduate vanished on June 30, 2019, from the area of Cave Creek and Lone Mountain roads, where he was visiting friends in a gated community. Mere days after he disappeared, his four-wheel drive Ford Explorer was found abandoned in a remote area of Yavapai County. There have been no signs of him since.
“It’s so hard because our lives changed for the ugly. For his birthday, we prepared his favorite food,” she said about Costco pizza, Buffalo hot wings and double chocolate cake. “It’s not just sad on his birthday, but every day.
“We haven’t heard from him. We don’t know where he is, what they did to him. We don’t know anything. We feel desperate.”
Just before Michael disappeared, he graduated from Pinnacle High. Employed by Jack in the Box, he enjoyed exercising and going to the gym in his free time — especially with his brother, Mikey Antonio. Mikey was looking forward to joining a gym with Michael.
His goal was to become a firefighter and to start his own exercise clothing business. He frequently discussed this with his four siblings, who also include Antonio, Anna Maria Elena and Michelle Angela.
“He had many goals and wanted to accomplish so much,” said Lidia, as the conversation increasingly grew difficult for her.
“He wanted to become a firefighter because they exercise a lot and eat healthy — everything he liked. He was only 18 years old, so he had many goals, but none of them were accomplished since he went missing. Even until now that it has been two years, we still don’t know anything about him, what they did to him, how he is, where he is. Investigators only tell us that they are investigating and investigating, but we don’t know anything. Not knowing anything feels horrible. Life isn’t the same without my son. There are no celebrations or life here.”
Many have told Lidia and her husband, Mike, that Michael obviously ran away. They do not accept that.
“We weren’t bad parents,” Lidia said. “We wouldn’t have told him not to do stuff.”
Mike called his son “the greatest guy you ever want to meet.” He was kind, considerate and happy-go-lucky — “just a hell of a nice guy.”
Michael could be a bit too trusting at times, though. He once started a conversation with a homeless person at a gas station, while his friend, Fabian Serrano, was inside paying.
“When his friend came out to pump the gas, he said, ‘Meet my new friend. We’re going to give him a ride,’” Mike recalled.
“This guy got into Michael’s friend’s car and, mind you, he was full of tattoos and was rough looking.
“Fabian was afraid and said, ‘What are you doing, Michael?’ Michael said not to worry about it. This guy took them up north on a desolate, dark road. They couldn’t see anything in the open field. All of a sudden, there were a bunch of other guys in the field and he said, ‘Drop me off here.’
“They were fine. Michael just didn’t believe in bad people. He thought everybody was going to be nice to everyone.”
Serrano recalled the same about Michael. The two met in English class. Born in Ecuador, Serrano knew very little English when he moved to Arizona, but Michael embraced him anyway.
“He is the type of kid who spoke to everyone; he was outgoing,” Serrano said about Michael. “I was the quiet kid. One day, the teacher got really mad at Michael because he kept talking to the girl next to him. They put me next to him. We became friends immediately. He was the outgoing kid. I was the quiet kid.
“He’s like a brother to me. He overlooked what he saw.”
When Michael went missing, Serrano said it was a shock to him as well as the Fazzaris.
“I talked to him that morning,” the Paradise Valley Community College student said. “He texted me over Snapchat and asked me if I wanted to hang out that night. We never hung out that night, which is super weird. I don’t know if I forgot about it or if I didn’t pick up the phone. When I speak to my mom about this, she says it’s protection from God. I could have been with him. My mom says it could have been me and him. There wasn’t a night when we didn’t hang out.”
Michael and Serrano were planning a drop-shipping business, an order fulfillment method that lets store owners sell directly to consumers without stocking inventory. Serrano dropped the idea when Michael disappeared.
“For two weeks, I didn’t come home at all,” he added. “I was with his family to be there for them and trying to put the pieces together. I felt like I was watching a movie where they’re searching for people. You never think it could be you.
“But I pushed all my emotions to the side. I was the one always getting Michael in check. He partied, but he was super charismatic with everyone. I was the super cautious one. I was taking care of everyone and keeping everyone safe.”
A mysterious drop-off point
Sunday, June 30, 2019, was the last time Mike and Lidia saw their son. Michael worked the afternoon shift at Jack in the Box at North Cave Creek Road and North Tatum Boulevard. He left his job and visited his girlfriend at 40th Street and Bell Road.
Just before 11 p.m., his girlfriend’s dad told Michael it was time for his daughters to go to sleep. Meanwhile, Michael’s family went to Buffalo Wild Wings. When Michael returned home, the house was empty, and he visited another set of friends.
“We figure he felt alone, got out of his Jack in the Box uniform, put his street clothes on, took selfies and then left,” Mike said.
When Michael didn’t come home, his parents incessantly texted him. The following day, when he still didn’t return, his parents were panicked even more.
“If he didn’t answer his phone, he would get back to us and let us know he’s OK,” Mike recalled, sighing. “We knew he had to go to work. He’s responsible, as far as that went. When he didn’t show up, we figured we needed to notify the police.”
Michael’s car was found on a rugged, desolate, narrow road, among jagged rocks, in rural Yavapai County. Mike thinks it was driven there to throw off the police. It worked, he said.
“They concentrated their search there,” Mike said. “When we went to help with search and rescue, we took 20 people on this treacherous road.”
Helicopters, drones and cadaver dogs were used in the search. Search and rescue told the Fazzaris, “If your son, Michael, is out here, we’ll find him.”
“There was no way his car made it as far as it did,” Mike added. “It was dumped in a ditch, just abandoned with two flat tires. Michael would have fallen off the road.”
The investigation continues
Michael’s case is still open.
“Michael’s case is open and active,” said Det. Stuart Somershoe with the Phoenix Police Department. “We believe there are persons with information out there who could help resolve this case and bring resolution to his suffering family.”
Mike said he’s looking forward to seeing his son someday.
“It’s driving us crazy,” he said. “It’s just the unknown. We were just discussing it with Michael’s best friend, Fabian. The unknown is good. You still have hope.”
—Christina Fuoco-Karasinski can be reached at email@example.com