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Home  >  Topics  >  Investigations

August 14, 2002
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Girl, 4, Believed Kidnapped, Is Found Safe in L.A.

By Michael Janofsky, New York Times

Los Angeles -- A 4-year-old girl who was believed to have been abducted on Sunday was found unharmed today at a medical clinic several miles from where she was last seen.

The police said aides from the clinic called authorities after a woman brought the girl, Jessica Cortez, into the clinic for a physical examination. Sgt. John Pasquariello of the Los Angeles Police Department said the aides recognized the girl as the child who had been identified in news reports as missing for two days, and they also "were suspicious" of the woman who accompanied her.

After the police responded and confirmed that the girl was Jessica, they took the woman into custody for questioning. She was not immediately identified, and Sergeant Pasquariello said investigators were trying to learn how she came into contract with the girl.

The call from the clinic ended an intensive search that began on Sunday night in Echo Park, where Jessica was last seen. By some accounts, she left the park with a man, who is still wanted for questioning. Until Jessica was found, the police were trying to determine whether she had been abducted or whether she had accidentally fallen into the lake in Echo Park, as her 5-year-old brother had told the police.

In many abduction cases, police seek the assistance of news agencies to help spread information and descriptions, and officers here said that helped account for aides at the clinic identifying Jessica and calling the police.

The police spent much of the day today in neighborhoods around Echo Park, showing residents a sketch of the man who might have taken Jessica from the park..

People living nearby said earlier today that they had seen the man in the police sketch periodically over the last several months, sometimes around children in a play area.

Jessica's parents, Rafael Cortez and Maria Hernandez, who sell snacks from a cart, told investigators they last saw their daughter on Sunday afternoon in the park, where they often allowed their children to play unattended.

Arriving back at the park after reports that Jessica had been found, Mayor James K. Hahn told reporters tonight, "I am very relieved."






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