Breaking update as of Friday, Nov. 12, 2021, 3:30 p.m.: The mother of a New Jersey teen who disappeared and was later found safe in New York City was arrested Friday, the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office said.
Editor’s note: Though the teen’s name was widely publicized during the search for her, PIX11 News is not identifying her now that she’s been found and is considered the victim of an alleged crime.
Breaking update as of Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021 at 10 p.m.: The teen was found in New York City, officials said.
Original story –
EAST ORANGE, N.J. — A14-year-old disappeared two weeks ago after visiting an East Orange deli to pick up some essentials for her family. With details scarce, even the girl’s PlayStation game was taken by police during an investigation at her home.
That process has been extremely painful for her family, all while trying to get her home safe.
“There’s a lot of heartless people out there,” the teen’s mom, Jamie Moore, said. “We got a couple of requests for money, for information, which I turned over to the police department.”
The missing teen’s case didn’t receive much attention when she first vanished on Oct. 14, a Thursday — so family friends sent handmade “missing” posters to the Mary Murphy Mystery Facebook page. We decided to investigate.
“My niece is a Black, Afro-Latina girl, you understand?” the teen’s aunt, Yolanda Moore, said to PIX11News. “When you’re’ in a disenfranchised community like East Orange…there’s a lot of, I would say, ignoring of Black little girls.”
The teen’s mother said her daughter went to U.S. Food Market on Central Avenue in East Orange at about 7:30 a.m. on Oct. 14 for juice and paper towels.
“She came back and she said, ‘Mommy, I lost the card,'” Jamie Moore recalled. The teen was referring to the EBT card used by many families for assistance in purchasing food.
“I just said, ‘Backtrack your steps,'” Jamie Moore remembered.
She said when her daughter didn’t come back again within an hour, she went out looking for her. She said she walked up and down Central Avenue going to several delis.
Finally, Jamie Moore said she flagged down a police car before dusk and reported her daughter missing.
The mother said police searched her house on Amherst Street the first day, and returned to remove her daughter’s video games, personal documents, and even the mother’s phone. (Jamie Moore said her daughter did not have her own phone.)
Jamie Moore also revealed there was a pending domestic violence case involving her estranged husband, an East Orange police officer, for an alleged 2020 incident that happened in Irvington, when the family lived there.
“I saw him punch my niece twice in the face,” Yolanda Moore said. “And this guy’s in his 30s. And he’s really tall and he’s really big.”
The stepfather had been arrested last year for simple assault, and Jamie Moore showed us a letter the family recently received for the teen to testify before a grand jury.
Yet Essex County prosecutors told us Thursday evening they don’t believe the criminal case is related to the missing girl’s disappearance.
“The domestic violence case is proceeding against the defendant,” Katherine Carter, a public information officer in the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, wrote. “We are aware of the fact that the mother reported the daughter missing. The missing person’s case is being handled by municipal authorities in East Orange. At this point, the domestic violence assault and the status of the missing person do not appear to be related; however, it is being monitored by law enforcement.”
When PIX11 News visited the first deli the teen went to on Thursday, Oct. 14, the clerk told us East Orange investigators had taken the footage showing the teen in the store that morning.
“Somebody came in with her and paid for her,” the female clerk said, where the girl bought juice and some candy.
The employee’s co-worker, Bassan Awaldi, said the man was wearing a baseball hat and a mask.
“He talked with her; he pay and go,” Awaldi said.
The family learned the teen also visited another deli on Central Avenue that day — Poppie’s. Police obtained surveillance at that location, too.
The girl’s grandmother, Yolanda Aguilera, spoke in English and Spanish as she told PIX11 News it seemed like an “extra-terrestrial” came out of nowhere to snatch the girl.
“She was the best granddaughter I could ever have,” Aguilera said on the family stoop. “She respects me so much, and she love me a lot.”
The teen’s little brother, Jaiden, is also missing his big sister, who helped him with his Spider-Man games.
“Shyah just downloads it,” the little boy said. “Now I can’t play it.”
Jamie Moore said her daughter aspired to create her own YouTube channel, loved to cook and was mostly a homebody.
“Nothing would keep her away from me,” the mom sobbed, “Nothing would keep her away from her little brother. And she’s such a smart girl. She would not stay out overnight. She would not want me to worry.”
This story is a part of a new series from PIX11 News’ Mary Murphy called The Missing, which puts a spotlight on missing persons that historically haven’t received significant attention to help find them.