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Police Address Search for Jessica Cortez

Aired August 13, 2002 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Want to take you live right away to Los Angeles to Echo Park. This is Lt. Jose Perez with the L.A. Police Department. He is here to talk about the latest in the search for 4- year-old Jessica Cortez, disappeared Sunday in this park. We are not clear at this point if she disappeared with a man or perhaps drowned in the lake. The search goes on for this little girl, and LAPD holding this news conference to bring us the latest. Let's go ahead and listen in to the lieutenant.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

QUESTION: Give us your name and spell it again, sir.

JOSE PEREZ, LAPD: Jose, J-O-S-E, Perez, P-E-R-E-Z. I am the lieutenant of Rampart detectives. OK. Everybody ready? OK.

Good morning. Today we're out here -- you're seeing we still have the park established as a perimeter. We're still checking the park. During the night, we followed up some leads that we received from the community members who called in. We went to a couple residences where the suspect -- the person matching the suspect description resided. Those searches proved fruitless. Those people have been eliminated and were not involved in the incident. Currently, what we're doing is getting ready. At 10:00, roughly, we will have the divers. Yesterday we had 28 divers that conducted the largest water search in the history of the City of Los Angeles. It's a multi-agency dive. Today we will have the Los Angeles Police Department, Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, the L.A. City Lifeguards, and the fire department, and we will once again be conducting a search of the lake. By the end of the day, we should be fairly certain with the results of whether the young girl is in the lake or not. That dive is going to start roughly at about 8:00 a.m., and will continue through today. Yesterday they dove for seven hours, and we were fairly certain that in the areas that they checked that the little girl is not there. We are still also following any and other leads received from the community regarding the gentlemen that was last seen speaking with the little girl, so we are asking that if anybody has any information, please call the Rampart desk at 213-485- 4062. That's where we are at right now.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) -- 7:00 or 10:00 for that?

PEREZ: At 10:00, the divers will -- is the anticipated time that the divers will commence diving.

QUESTION: Lieutenant, why is it necessary to redo another search of the lake? PEREZ: At this point, what we are searching is the areas that we had not searched yet, and -- we checked the -- the northeast section was checked twice yesterday because that was the area that the little girl was seen, originally was suspected to have been seen in, and we've checked the high probability areas, and now we are just going to go check the remainder of the lake.

QUESTION: Do you consider this man to be a suspect per se, or just someone you want to question?

PEREZ: Somebody we want to speak to. He was the last person that was seen with the little girl. At this point, we are considering him a suspect and we're looking for him.

QUESTION: You did check his residence...

PEREZ: No, we did not say we checked his residence. We checked some residence that citizens called in saying that a person matching that description resided there.

QUESTION: So you still don't know who he is, or...

PEREZ: We don't have him identified yet.

QUESTION: But some neighborhood residents said they have seen him in the park before, a description of that man (ph)?

PEREZ: We have some residents who -- community members who have said that they have seen him in the park, a man matching that description, that he has been seen in the park earlier in the week.

QUESTION: What was the exact -- I mean, as far as your eyewitness goes, what is the exact extent of what they're able to tell you? (UNINTELLIGIBLE) matches the description?

PEREZ: We have some people -- I really don't want to go into that part, because that will possibly compromise our investigation at this point.

QUESTION: Was he acting in a threatening manner?

PEREZ: Not in a threatening manner when he -- when he was with Jessica, that part.

QUESTION: Now what about -- you said (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

PEREZ: As best we can tell from the interviews that -- and the information we gathered, he was seen last week. Whether he was here earlier, I couldn't really confirm that for you or not.

QUESTION: Is this suspect anyone that the family recognizes in any way, or anyone else might have been able to give you a positive ID on this (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

PEREZ: The family did not know the gentlemen. Nobody at this time has been able to give us a name. We are using computer queries. There are members here from the Los Angeles Police Department. The FBI and the sheriffs have offered their assistance. They're here. The investigation is still ongoing. There will be some other things we will be looking at. At this point, we don't want to go into jeopardizing the investigation at all.

QUESTION: Her family has received no ransom note, any calls (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

PEREZ: No, ma'am.

QUESTION: How big is the lake? How deep is it?

PEREZ: It's from two feet to six feet generally, and then there are some spots where it is 12 to 15 feet. I think it's -- somewhere in the area of about 12 acres or something. I'm not really sure.

QUESTION: Can you tell us geographically where around the lake she was last seen?

PEREZ: Was at the northeast corner, which is the area that we checked twice yesterday. That was checked the night before and yesterday.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

PEREZ: That was the area that she was seen, and it was somebody who gave on her clothing description. And so we have some -- we have some people that -- that have given us some information. But that's the area she was last seen in. OK? I probably -- before we kick off the search team (ph), if there is anything that comes up then, later, we will give you another update at that time. But at this point, everything is still static and we are just progressing.

QUESTION: Are you convinced that foul play is involved?

PEREZ: Well, we haven't ruled it out, and so we are checking -- every possible angle on this case, sir.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Overall, you have been getting some leads, just following those up as far as the suspect, and where he might live, or you know...

PEREZ: We don't know. We do not have the suspect identified. We received calls from the community identifying residence where they thought the suspect might have lived or hung out. All those have been followed up, and proven not to be the person.

QUESTION: Can you describe the lake and this park area in general, as far as the safety factor?

PEREZ: Well, it is one of our safe parks. It's an old park here that has been here for quite a while. It's actually a large park. We have McArthur (ph) down to the side. This place has a lot of regular people that regular tenants -- not tenants, I'm sorry, but a lot of vendors that come here that come all the time and stuff, so it has its own informal social structure here, where people that attend the park regularly. It has -- the water itself is very dark and murky, and there's zero visibility down below to it. There is a boat where they can go out there. You do see people fishing here at times. What type of fish are in here, I'm not sure.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) not very safe.

PEREZ: You know, we've had reports. We've made arrests here in the area for drug dealing, and for some gang activity and that. Overall, it -- we've been able to impact the quality of life here in a positive way. We have -- this is one of the parks we had focused a lot of attention on here, along with McArthur (ph) Park, so it's one of the city's safe parks. We do have a lot of resources that are put down in this area.

QUESTION: Can you spell your name for us again?

PEREZ: Lt. Jose Perez. J-O-S-E. Perez, P-E-R-E-Z.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

PEREZ: OK. Thank you. Yes, ma'am. Rampart detectives.

KAGAN: We have been listening in to Lt. Jose Perez, of the L.A. Police Department, bringing us the latest on the search for the latest story involving a missing girl. This one is 4-year-old Jessica Cortez, missing since Sunday. Disappeared in that very park where that news conference was held, Echo Park in Los Angeles. Described as a 4-year-old little girl.

Some confusion over what might have happened to her. Did she end up in the lake, and because of that there has been an extensive diving expeditions going on into the lake. No clues turning up there so far, or did she disappear with an unidentified man. It sounds like police are following up both. Pictures of this dive here, the lieutenant saying this was largest water search in the history of Los Angeles. They're bringing even more people in today to look at other parts of the lake.

And also, there is this man, who people in the park say was seen with the little girl, talking to the little girl, also a man holding a little Chihuahua dog, but there is no identification on him. Police would very much like to talk to him and find out if they know anything about the disappearance of Jessica Cortez.

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