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8-Year-Old Girl Found Safe In Mexico After 2018 Kidnapping
The FBI announced the now-8-year-old was taken by her non-custodial mother during a court-supervised visit at a Washington mall in 2018.
An 8-year-old girl who was kidnapped by her non-custodial mother has been found safe in Mexico three years after her disappearance.
The FBI's Seattle field office announced Wednesday that Aranza Maria Ochoa Lopez was returned to the United States after Mexican authorities located her in the state of Michoacán. She was safely escorted back to the States by FBI special agents. The office declined to share further details about the child's current whereabouts, stating that her "safety and privacy is of utmost importance."
"For more than four years, the FBI and our partners did not give up on Aranza," said Richard A. Collodi, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Seattle field office. "Our concern now will be supporting Aranza as she begins her reintegration into the U.S."
Ochoa Lopez was removed from her biological mother Esmeralda Lopez-Lopez's custody and placed into foster care in 2017 after reports of physical abuse. The then-4-year-old was reportedly covered in bruises and her mother was deemed a danger by Child Protective Services (CPS), according to The Columbian.
Lopez-Lopez was nonetheless granted two court-supervised visits a week, The Columbian reported, citing court records.
The kidnapping took place on Oct. 25, 2018, when Lopez-Lopez asked to take Ochoa Lopez to the bathroom during a supervised visit at a Vancouver, Washington mall. Instead, she took the 4-year-old to a stolen vehicle and fled to Mexico.
The FBI subsequently released a missing person poster and offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to Ochoa Lopez's whereabouts, after which they were informed that the then-4-year-old had been taken to Mexico.
Then, in 2019, the child's mother was arrested in Puebla, Mexico, though authorities were unable to locate Ochoa Lopez, who was believed to be with family. Lopez-Lopez was extradited to Washington state, where she pleaded guilty to second-degree kidnapping and robbery and first-degree custodial interference in January 2021, according to The Columbian.
Lopez-Lopez initially faced more charges, including identity theft, but prosecutors agreed to reduced charges in exchange for her cooperation with authorities searching for her daughter, the outlet reported.
Though Lopez-Lopez said she regretted her actions, Clark County Superior Court Judge Daniel Stahnke doubted that she was actually remorseful.
"You should not have taken her to a place where you no longer know where she’s at," Stahnke said.
She was ultimately sentenced to 20 months in prison and 18 months supervised release.