An 8-year-old girl who was abducted from the state of Washington nearly five years ago has been found alive in Mexico, federal authorities announced.
According to a press release from the FBI, Aranza Maria Ochoa Lopez, who was first reported missing in October 2018, was located last month in Michoacán, Mexico, and safely recovered by Mexican authorities. The child was then escorted back to the United States by FBI special agents.
“For more than four years, the FBI and our partners did not give up on Aranza. Our concern now will be supporting Aranza as she begins her reintegration into the U.S.,” Richard A. Collodi, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Seattle field office, said in a statement Wednesday. “Aranza’s safety and privacy is of utmost importance. Her location in the U.S. is not being disclosed, and no additional information will be released at this time.”
A then-4-year-old Lopez was in the custody of the state when she was kidnapped by her biological non-custodial mother, Esmeralda Lopez-Lopez, during a supervised visit to the Vancouver Mall on Oct. 25, 2018, authorities said.
Lopez-Lopez was located by Mexican authorities in Puebla, Mexico, in 2019 and arrested, but her daughter was not located at that time and was believed to still be somewhere in Mexico. Lopez-Lopez was later extradited back to Clark County, Washington, to face criminal charges.
Lopez-Lopez was initially charged with one count each of first-degree kidnapping, first-degree robbery, second-degree theft, motor vehicle theft, second-degree identity theft and first-degree custodial interference, according to a report from The Columbian. However, prosecutors reportedly agreed to “substantially reduce” the charges against her in exchange for her cooperation in locating her daughter.
Lopez-Lopez in January 2021 pleaded guilty to one count each of second-degree kidnapping, second-degree robbery, and first-degree custodial interference and was sentenced to 20 months in prison. She was also ordered to serve 18 months of probation following her release.
Aranza Lopez was initially placed in the custody of Child Protective Services in 2017 after the agency received numerous “founded complaints” that she was being physically abused by Lopez-Lopez, The Columbian reported. CPS agents reportedly said that they found Aranza Lopez to be “covered in large bruises.”
In addition to physically abusing her daughter, Lopez-Lopez also reportedly refused to participate in a mandatory mental health assessment and displayed erratic behavior, leading the state to deem her a danger to Aranza Lopez.
Lopez-Lopez was granted two supervised visits with her daughter per week but reportedly skipped out on CPS after asking to take the girl to one of the restrooms at the Vancouver Mall, per the Columbian. She reportedly fled from the mall in a stolen vehicle.
After her disappearance, the FBI offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to Aranza Lopez’s location.
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