Need Breaking Updates?
Subscribe Now and Receive Breaking Stories directly to your email inbox daily
Thank you for subscribing.
Something went wrong.
Authorities are frantically searching for Southern California teen Alora Benitezwho went missing on the morning of April 17. Benitez is believed to be in the company of her mother and an adult male. Both adults have been linked to the grisly murder of an unidentified Carson, California man on April 16. Family members are concerned for Benitez’s safety and are seeking her safe return.
Here’s what you need to know about the search for missing teen Alora Benitez.
1. Benitez Is Thought to be in “Extreme Danger”
Benitez, 15, was last spotted in Torrance, a suburb of Los Angeles, around 9 a.m. Wednesday, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said in a public statement. She is believed to be traveling with her mother, Maricela Mercado, 40, and a man identified as Roman Cerratos, 39, in a white 2013 BMW four-door sedan. The vehicle has a Nevada vanity plate reading “MARIMAR.” The car they are using may have had its rear license plate removed and replaced with a temporary paper plate. The California Highway Patrol recently issued an Amber Alert at the request of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. The Amber alert covers Los Angeles San Diego, San Bernardino, Orange, and Riverside counties.
Benitez is described by law enforcement as a Hispanic female standing 5 feet two, 100 pounds with brown hair and brown eyes. No description of her clothing was available. Cerratos is said to be a Hispanic male, 39 years of age, 6’1”, 210 lbs, bald and brown eyes. Mercado is a Hispanic female, 40 years old, 5’3”, 130 lbs, brown hair and brown eyes. Mercado and Cerratos are considered armed and dangerous. Authorities have not stated if Mercado or Cerratos have a previous criminal history.
Anyone who spots Benitez, Mercado, or Cerratos is asked not to engage with them directly but to call 911 or the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Homicide Bureau, Detective Lawler or Detective Blagg at (323) 890-5500. Anonymous tips can also be called into Crime Stoppers at (800) 222-TIPS (8477).
2. Mercado and Cerratos Are Wanted in Connection With the Murder of an Unidentified Man
Cerratos and Mercado are suspects in the murder of a man found dead in Carson, California. The victim was discovered in the front seat of a white Audi sedan parked in a lot across from the Carson Mall in the early morning hours of Tuesday, April 16. It is not known how they were familiar with the victim or why they are tied to his murder.
Detectives from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department responded to the 400 block of East Carson Plaza Drive in Carson, after being alerted to an incident that occurred just after 6:30 a.m. The victim was found by two men who were on their way to an early morning training class. “Deputies arrived along with members of the LA County Fire Department and found a male adult inside the vehicle unresponsive. He was pronounced dead at the scene,” Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Homicide Bureau spokesperson Lieutenant Brandon Dean said.
The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department originally stated that the victim had been stabbed to death, but news station KTLA reported that the cause of death is officially still pending and that it’s “unknown if there are any stab wounds.” Video from the crime scene shows blood dripping down the car’s exterior as well as a trail of blood across the parking lot and into the street. Onlookers watching the investigation reported seeing the police recover a knife in the parking lot.
3. The Victim May Have Been Affiliated With a Local Drug Testing Company
The victim was found in the parking lot of ASAP Drug Solutions, however, no formal information has been released regarding his connection to the company. The firm provides drug and alcohol screening and testing to businesses in the workplace. KTLA reported that Patricia Rivera, an employee who works nearby, revealed that a friend who works for ASAP Drug Solutions recognized the victim as one of their clients. Employees with the company were unable to enter their office for several hours while the crime scene was processed.
4. Benitez Was not Initially Thought to be in Danger
According to television stations CBS 2 and KCAL, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department originally requested that the California Highway Patrol (CHP) issue an Amber Alert on the night of April 17. The CHP declined the request because Benitez’s disappearance did not meet the criteria for an Amber Alert because she was not thought to be in “imminent danger.”
Each state AMBER Alert plan includes its own criteria for issuing AMBER Alerts. The PROTECT Act, passed in 2003, created minimum standards which include: reasonable belief by law enforcement that an abduction has occurred, the law enforcement agency believes that the child is in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death, there is enough descriptive information about the victim and the abduction for law enforcement to issue an AMBER Alert to assist in the recovery of the child, the abduction is of a child aged 17 years or younger, the child’s name and other critical data elements, including the Child Abduction flag, have been entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) system. According to the Amber Alert website, most states adhere closely to the Department of Justice’s guidelines.
5. Child Abductions by a Parent are Often the Most Dangerous
approximately 32,000 children under the age of 18 are kidnapped annually. The Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) says that kidnappings perpetrated by strangers are extremely rare. The majority of child abductions are carried out by parents or guardians. “I think there’s a perception with people that, ‘Oh, since they’re with a parent no harm will come to the child,’” Nancy Hammer, director of the International Division of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children told ABC News in a 2002 interview.