Police searching for Rochester mother, child believed to be in California
Rochester, N.Y. – Rochester Police said Friday they are working with the FBI after a five-year-old girl was reported missing by family members.
According to police, Leilani “Lily” Ortiz was picked up by her mother, Rene Stong, 32, in Rochester Wednesday around 4 p.m. When the child did not return home, family members contacted police.
Family members tell us Stong is mentally ill and has not had custody of Lily since she was an infant.
Lily’s guardian is her paternal grandmother, according to family.
Family members said they and police went to Lily’s school on Lake Avenue in Rochester, Thursday, to see surveillance video from the day prior.
Police later determined Stong had taken her daughter to the Greater International Airport and left the area on Wednesday. Stong then flew to Detroit, spent the night in a hotel with her daughter, and flew out to San Diego on Thursday, family members say.
They are currently believed to be in southern California.
During a news conference Friday afternoon, Rochester Police Chief Michael Ciminelli said they are in the middle of a "very intensive investigation" and are working with FBI and other law enforcement partners.
"We're doing everything we can to find this girl," Chief Ciminelli said.
Chief Ciminelli added they are in the midst of a lot of other follow up actions, but expressed caution about giving out too many details.
"If we get too specific, it's going to make it harder for us to find this child," he said.
Rochester Police officials said an AMBER Alert was not issued immediately because police believed Ortiz was not in danger of bodily harm or death.
"It blows my mind that still to this day, there was no AMBER Alert," said Lily's cousin, Jose Peo.
Ed Suk heads the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Rochester. He says only about 12 AMBER Alerts are issued in the United Stated each year because of a strict criteria. A child has to be under the age of 17 and has to be in imminent danger of serious bodily harm.
Suk also says its a good idea to call the center's hotline number in addition to contacting police. That number is 1-800-THE-LOST.
Police tell 13WHAM in the case of the missing Lily Ortiz, they have no reason to believe she is in danger.
"We're leaving no stone unturned," Chief Ciminelli said. "We're working with the FBI."
Rochester Police are working with authorities in California to locate Stong and Ortiz.
Lisa Clark, the CEO of Exploration Elementary Charter School for Science & Technology, released the following statement Friday evening:
I am heartbroken about our student who was reported missing by her family. We take any matter involving the safety and security of our children very seriously. We are working closely and cooperatively with the child’s family, proper authorities, and the school’s transportation provider and look forward to her safe return. The School followed all necessary steps and protocol and made sure the child was placed onto the proper bus with all other children assigned to that bus, as it is obligated to do. The School is trying to determine why the child was subsequently released after she had already been placed onto the bus.
Anyone in the Rochester area with information is asked to call 911.