Authorities say a child missing since 2018 has been found in Mexico and has safely returned to the United States.

For half a decade, the enigmatic disappearance of Aranza Maria Ochoa Lopez, a young girl abducted by her biological mother on October 25, 2018, from a Vancouver, Washington mall, has haunted authorities. Now, her harrowing ordeal has finally come to an end. Found living incognito south of the border in Mexico, Aranza will be brought back to her home in the United States after years of evasion.

The FBI broke the news of Aranza’s return on a Wednesday, recounting the fateful day in 2018 when she vanished under the watchful eye of her mother, Esmeralda Lopez-Lopez. The girl’s rescue in February took place in the western Mexican state of Michoacan, though details surrounding her recovery remain undisclosed. Neither the FBI nor Mexican authorities have revealed who accompanied Aranza during her time in Mexico or how they managed to locate her and facilitate her return.

In the wake of Aranza’s kidnapping in October 2018, the FBI deduced that she had been taken to Mexico. Her mother was subsequently apprehended in September 2019 and handed over to the authorities in the east-central Mexican city of Puebla. The relentless search for the missing child carried on.

Esmeralda Lopez-Lopez then faced the consequences of her actions, in 2021, the mother pleaded guilty to second-degree kidnapping, robbery, and first-degree custodial interference, as reported by The Columbian, a local Mexican newspaper. Richard A. Collodi, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Seattle field office, emphasized that American authorities never abandoned their pursuit, throughout the years of Aranza’s absence.

“For more than four years, the FBI and our partners did not give up on Aranza,” Collodi declared. “Our concern now will be supporting Aranza as she begins her reintegration into the US.”

In their relentless quest to bring the abducted girl home, the FBI offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to her location. Throughout the investigation, they collaborated with the Vancouver Police Department and Mexican law enforcement agencies.

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The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) highlights that, unfortunately, Aranza’s case is not uncommon. The majority of child abductions are committed by family members, as evidenced by her own mother’s actions at the Vancouver shopping mall. According to NCMEC data, a mere one percent of missing children cases involves abductions by non-family members.

Aranza’s story serves as a testament to the unwavering determination of law enforcement agencies that, despite the passage of time, never lost hope in reuniting the young girl with her rightful home in the United States. As she embarks on her journey of reintegration, her newfound freedom stands as a powerful reminder that, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, there is always the possibility of a brighter future.

Sources: AWM, Columbian, KPTV

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