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Mystery Deepens Around Disappearance of Massachusetts Teen After Suspect Is Killed In Confrontation With Authorities

Jalajhia Finklea was last seen getting into the rented vehicle of 37-year-old Luis Zaragoza on Oc. 20, but when authorities tried to take Zaragoza into custody last week in Florida, he was killed.

Jalajhia Finklea Pd

A Massachusetts teenager disappeared in October after last being getting into a Florida man’s rented vehicle.

Now, that man is dead and authorities are still searching for 18-year-old Jalajhia Finklea, who had been five months pregnant when she disappeared.

The Bristol County District Attorney’s Office said Finklea was last seen Oct. 20 getting into a vehicle rented by 37-year-old Luis Zaragoza, according to a statement from prosecutors.

But when U.S. Marshals attempted to take Zargoza, who also goes by the name Luis Barbosa, into custody on an arrest warrant for kidnapping and larceny of a motor vehicle last week outside a Florida McDonald’s, he was killed “during a confrontation with police” before providing any information about the teen’s whereabouts.

Finklea, who had been a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, disappeared from her Massachusetts home the day before her 18th birthday, according to a police report obtained by the Cape Cod Times.

Her mother, Amanda Costa, last saw her daughter around 4:50 p.m. on Oct. 20 after she went to fill a prescription for Finklea, who had undergone the first portion of a two-part medical procedure earlier that day. When Amanda Costa returned around 5:30 p.m. her daughter was gone.

Finklea’s cell phone had been last used to call Zaraogoza, who had once reportedly dated the teen’s aunt, according to the report.

Just before she disappeared, Finklea, who was wearing slippers and light clothing, was seen getting into a Hyundai Elantra that Zaragoza had rented at Logan International Airport in Boston. The two allegedly sat in the car for about 20 minutes before the vehicle drove off around 5:40 p.m.

Authorities said Zaragoza turned off his own cell phone “minutes after Ms. Finklea got into his rented vehicle,” according to the Bristol County District Attorney’s Office.

Finklea’s discarded cellphone was later recovered by police on Route 140 in New Bedford, around five miles from where she was seen getting into the vehicle.

Costa reported her daughter missing to the New Bedford Police Department the next day after getting a call from a clinic that Finklea had never showed up for her follow-up appointment, the report said.

After he was seen meeting with Finklea, Zaragoza allegedly failed to return the rental car and instead made his way back to Florida where he was captured on surveillance footage at a McDonald’s drive-thru line in Jacksonville, Florida. Zaragoza was seen in the images but he did not appear to have a passenger in the vehicle at the time, according to the report.

He was later tracked to Houston on Oct. 30 after authorities got a hit on his license plate. Investigators were also able to obtain a still image in that instance, but again, it appeared that there was only one person in the vehicle.

As the case against Zaragoza progressed, police asked the U.S. Marshals Service for help tracking down Zaragoza and Finklea. The U.S. Marshals found Zaragoza back in Florida on Wednesday, Nov. 4 and began surveillance.

The following day, police obtained an arrest warrant charging Zaragoza with kidnapping and larceny of a motor vehicle.

“Detectives have probable cause to believe that Finklea has been kidnapped by Barboza [Zaragoza] without lawful authority, being forcibly or secretly confined or imprisoned against her will,” the application for the warrant obtained by the newspaper said. “There is great concern that her life and safety are in danger as her whereabouts are unknown.”  

While New Bedford Police detectives were en route to Florida to interview Zaragoza, the U.S. Marshal’s and an Okaloosa County Sheriff’s deputy tried to arrest him at a Crestview McDonald’s. Authorities said Zaragoza was “armed with a handgun” and was killed during the confrontation with law enforcement, according to the district attorney’s office.

Zaragoza’s mother Tammy Wright had allegedly told detectives that her son suffered from severe depression and had attempted suicide in the past. She described her son as having the “emotional capacity of a teenager” but said he had no past history of violence, according to the report.

Authorities are still trying to find Finklea and have asked anyone with information about the case to contact the New Bedford Police Department.

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