An 11-year-old girl was abducted by her father from a Baltimore area home where her mother was found murdered on Thursday morning, and authorities are searching across Maryland and West Virginia, police said.
Caitlyn Virts was last seen at about 7 a.m. local time in the Dundalk area and was believed to be "in extreme danger", according to statements by the Baltimore County Police Department and West Virginia State Police.
Her father, 38-year-old Timothy Virts, had been staying at the house where Caitlyn lived with her mother, 36-year-old Bobbie Jo Cortez, whose cause of death had not been determined, the Baltimore County Police Department said in a statement on its website.
"The investigation into Bobbie Jo Cortez's murder remains in its early stages," the statement said.
Authorities issued an Amber Alert for Caitlyn Marie Virts, flashed her image on billboards throughout the region and told motorists to be on the lookout for a black SUV.
"He is not supposed to have her, and we are concerned for her safety," police spokeswoman Elise Armacost said.
The girl's mother, Bobbie Jo Cortez, 36, was found dead shortly after 9 a.m. in what police said was a violent scene at their home in the 3100 block of Ardee Way. Police said the death is being investigated as a homicide but did not say how Cortez died.
Police said Virts is a suspect in the abduction and investigators "want to talk to him" about Cortez's death.
The parents had separated and Cortez married another man, police said, but Virts had been staying at the home in recent weeks. Three children also lived there, including Caitlyn's twin sister and another boy, police said.
Caitlyn is 5 feet tall, weighs 80 pounds and might be wearing glasses, police said. Timothy Virts is 6-foot-3 and weighs 280 pounds. Both are white.
Police are looking for a black 1999 Dodge Durango with Maryland tag No. 5AJ4458. The vehicle is registered to 38-year-old Daniel Williams Cortez, who is married to Bobbie Jo and has been in jail since December on sex offense charges.
Daniel Cortez was convicted in 2009 of a fourth-degree sex offense, according to state records, and is on the state's sex offender registry. He was indicted again Wednesday on additional sex offense charges.
"Our detectives do not believe at this time that Cortez's criminal history is related to this homicide," Armacost told The Baltimore Sun.
An attorney for Cortez could not be reached for comment.
Timothy Virts' father said he learned that his granddaughter was missing when he saw the Amber Alert, which was issued at 10:45 a.m.
Bobbie Jo Cortez lived in the home with Caitlyn, her twin sister and a son. The twin and the son are safe with family members, police said.
Two other adults also lived in the home, Armacost said. She did not identify them.
Neighbors said Daniel Cortez had lived in the house until he was arrested in December.
Neighbor Patricia Jones said her children used to play with Caitlyn and her twin sister. She said Caitlyn was shy and didn't speak much. She said the Jones family limited contact between the households after Cortez's arrest.
When Timothy Virts moved in recently, no one at the Jones household knew who he was. The girls introduced him as "our new dad." He wore black leather clothing as he held the girls' hands and carried them on his shoulders.
Tina Jones, who lives with Patricia and is an aunt to her children, said she heard nothing out of the ordinary Thursday morning and woke to see the neighborhood swarming with police cars.
Officers, called to the house on a report of a cardiac arrest, arrived to find Bobbie Jo Cortez dead, Armacost said.
Court records show Timothy Virts has been involved in two custody disputes. Bobbie Jo Cortez was awarded sole custody of Caitlyn and her twin sister in 2011, though court records say both she and Timothy Virts were found to be "fit and proper parents."
In 2012, Virts was ordered to stay away from someone whose name is redacted from court records. No lawyer was listed in online files from the previous case.
Peter Virts said that he had not spoken to his son in more than a year and that Timothy Virts did not have a good relationship with anyone in his family.
In 2012, Peter Virts sought a protective order from his son. He wrote in court papers that Timothy had threatened him with violence.
The Center for Missing & Exploited Children is asking anyone with information to immediately call 911 or Baltimore County Police Department at 410-887-7320.
Baltimore Sun and Reuters contributed to this report