First-hand account of finding a missing girl shows possible gaps in the system

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — We can share a first-hand account of a family’s attempt to find a missing child.

It’s doubly important this week after the remains of a 16 year-old missing girl were found near a fishing hole along the Erie Canal. As far as we know, the killer has not been caught.

Seven years ago, the niece of Rochester City Councilman Jose Peo was abducted by her biological mother. Peo talked with News10NBC in the hopes that the process of looking for missing children gets streamlined. As he tried to find his niece, Peo says he found gaps in the system and that’s what he wants the police and the state to look at.

“You want to hear the story?”

That’s how News10NBC’s Berkeley Brean’s conversation started with Peo.

Seven years ago, his niece Lilly Ortiz disappeared when she was taken by her biological mother off her school bus. The next day Peo went to the mother’s apartment and found a receipt from the McDonald’s on Monroe Avenue.

“While I’m standing there waiting to go through the cameras I’m looking out the side windows at the corner store next to McDonalds, the freaking car pulls into the parking lot!” he said.

Peo knew they were looking for a grey Toyota with a distinct ornament hanging from the rearview mirror. Peo followed the car and called 911.

“The 911 operator had no idea what I was talking about,” he said.

Then he says he stopped a Rochester police officer.

“That police officer had no idea what I was talking about either,” said Peo.

At this point, Lilly was missing for 24 hours.

Peo tracked down the driver of the car and learned he was an Uber driver. When Peo pressed him he said “he dropped them off at the airport.”

A contact told Peo that Lilly and her biological mother flew to Detroit and then San Diego. The next day, the mother was spotted and arrested and Lilly returned home safely.

As Peo recalls, he felt like not everybody in law enforcement was in the loop about Lilly.

Berkeley Brean, News10NBC: “This was seven years ago.”
Jose Peo: “Right.”
Brean: “Maybe things have changed now?”
Peo: “Maybe. But I also see that there’s a lot of children missing.”

In an email to City Council Wednesday, RPD Chief David Smith told them there are 91 missing person cases in the city. Of those 91, 46 of them are children.

RPD has a general order about missing people. In multiple places it says information about missing children must be shared “immediately.”

News10NBC asked Peo how streamlining or changing missing children cases would reduce the number of missing children.

“I don’t think it’s going to reduce the number missing,” he said. “I think it’s going to change how families feel that law enforcement is doing everything they can to find their child.”

RPD have received 850 missing person reports this year.

Jakarah Lopez-Moore was one of them. Monday News10NBC learned her remains were found in a remote area along the Erie Canal. She was last seen on August 27 and reported missing on August 29, but at the time she was not considered to be in danger and it wasn’t the first time she had gone missing.

However, a combination of things and events triggered RPD to release a media notice on September 4, and a second one on September 13 writing that they believe “she may be in danger.”

RPD believes Lopez-Moore was murdered.