Family frustrated in search for daughter
Police and relatives say there is no evidence of an abduction of the teen
BY CHRISTINE CLARRIDGE
Perhaps Marizela Perez is hiding out somewhere, gathering the courage to tell her parents she dropped out of chemistry, switched her major to art and got a tattoo.
At least that’s what her parents hope.
The alternatives, say Jasmin and Edgar Perez, are too horrible to accept.
Marizela, an 18-year-old University of Washington freshman, was seen leaving a Safeway store on Brooklyn Avenue Northeast on March 5. She has not been seen since.
Police and her relatives say there was no evidence of an abduction, no note left by Marizela, no indication of what may have happened to the only child, whom her father called “the center of our family.”
Her relatives filed a police report and put up hundreds of fliers, held fundraisers, created Facebook pages, hired a private investigator, searched woods and parks with teams of trained dogs and even had the case featured twice on television’s “America’s Most Wanted.” Marizela’s cousin, conservative columnist Michelle Malkin, has written about the disappearance in her nationally syndicated column and on the website www.findmarizela.com.
Their frustration mounting, Marizela’s family believes Seattle police could be doing more to find the missing woman. But they have also learned what other families in similarly heartbreaking situations face: There are few resources devoted to finding missing adults and limited avenues for law enforcement to pursue when there’s no evidence of foul play.
“It is not a crime for an adult to go missing,” said Luci Stewart, manager of the State Patrol’s missing and unidentified persons unit.
People over the age of 18 are legal adults and have rights to privacy that often supersede the desire of families to track down information on their whereabouts, said a spokesman for the King County Sheriff’s Office.
Moreover, without evidence of a crime, police often cannot obtain a search warrant to compel Internet and cellphone companies to release information on a user’s account.
This particular fact has rankled Marizela’s family, who believe her e-mail, social media and cell phone accounts could hold vital — and time-sensitive — information on her location.
Malkin says she was shocked to learn that parents lose access to such basic information once a child turns 18. Additionally, she said, she believes there is little coordination, cooperation or consistency among local, state and federal investigative agencies when it comes to investigating missing adults.
“When you have a child missing, you have Amber Alerts and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, but there is no public national database for missing adults,” Malkin said. “It’s a gray area, but as a parent you know that regardless of age, they are still your child.”
Seattle police spokesman Mark Jamieson said he understands the family’s frustration but said police don’t have the resources to investigate every missing-person case as a potential criminal case.
“If we had indications this person was abducted or kidnapped, it would be a higher priority and there would be more resources and coordination, but we don’t have that,” he said.
According to the State Patrol, there are about 20,000 missing-persons cases reported in Washington each year. Seattle police alone receive about 1,700 missing-persons cases a year.
The majority of those cases are teens and young adults who run away from juvenile-rehabilitation centers and foster homes. Most of them go home or get caught, police said. Many others are people with mental-health or addiction issues.
“Their lifestyles can result in more danger, and some do end up as victims of crimes,” Stewart said.
Marizela had been diagnosed with depression after her grandfather died and had been prescribed medication to treat it, her parents said.
She was far from home, having moved from New Jersey to live with her aunt and uncle and attend college in Seattle. Shortly before her disappearance, Marizela had been distressed about a recent breakup with her boyfriend, they said.
But, her parents said, she had been happier over the first week of March, something they took to mean she had gotten over the worst of her post-breakup blues.
Another missing young woman’s father, who asked not to be named, said he and his wife searched for their daughter in Seattle, Oregon, Las Vegas and California. During his travels and research, her father said he learned that a person disappears in this country every 20 seconds. Many are never found.
“This country is very, very big, and we don’t know where to look,” he said. “I feel very upset it’s not easy.”
But, he said, his search is not over.
“We are still looking for her everywhere, anytime, because she is our daughter.”