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CONEY ISLAND, Brooklyn — Janice Cortez, 16, was living with her mother and two sisters a block from the Wonder Wheel at Coney Island’s Luna Park, but she wasn’t happy with their simple, meager lifestyle. When she was 14, she had stayed away from home for a night or two, her mother Yanira Cortez said.

“She said she didn’t want to come back, [that] she had an ‘unfair life,'” Yanira Cortez, an immigrant from El Salvador, added.

Shortly before the pandemic started in 2020, Janice Cortez went to stay with her father in Maryland after some girls at her Brooklyn school were bothering her. The COVID-19 crisis delayed her return to Brooklyn for more than a year, and she started attending Life Academy High School for Film and Music in the fall.

The night before she vanished in October, her mother recalled her middle daughter was giving her a neck massage in their second floor apartment and chatting away. Janice Cortez didn’t return from school the next day.

“I don’t understand what happened,” Yanira Cortez said. 

She filed a Missing Persons report for her daughter at the 60th Precinct in Brooklyn and told PIX11 News she’s had one clue on where the teen may have traveled.

On Oct. 29, nine days after her daughter was reported missing, someone used the family’s EBT card for a small purchase at the Price Chopper store in Delhi, New York —a town 178 miles away from Coney Island.

“I was concerned, because we don’t know anybody who lives up there,” the teen’s older sister, Shaina, told PIX11 News. “How did she get there? Who was she with?”

Janice Cortez’ disappearance has been especially upsetting to her little sister, Jocelyn. She said it’s not the first time her older sister has gone missing, but it is the longest.

“I’ve been texting her, but she doesn’t respond,” she said through tears.

Detective Joseph Giacalone, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, investigated many mysteries when he served as a detective with the NYPD. He said it’s critical that a photo of Janice Cortez floods the media on multiple platforms, and noted the EBT card purchase needed to be followed up.

“That’s a big clue,” Giacalone said, “The use of the card is a big clue … in many of the cases, you don’t even get that much.”

Anyone who sees Janice Cortez is urged to call the 60th Precinct Detective Squad or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-577-TIPS.