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News Maryland Baltimore County Dundalk

Search continues for missing Dundalk girl

Police believe the father of an 11-year-old girl abducted her from the Dundalk home where her mother was found dead Thursday morning. On Friday police had obtained an arrest warrant for 38-year-old Timothy Howard Virts in connection with the death of Bobbie Jo Cortez.

The Amber Alert issued Thursday for their daughter, Caitlyn Marie Virts, remains active on billboards throughout the region and told motorists to be on the lookout for a black SUV. Investigators believe the girl is with her father.

Baltimore County police said Friday they have reached out to other local and federal law enforcement agencies for assistance in the investigation.

"He is not supposed to have her, and we are concerned for her safety," police spokeswoman Elise Armacost said. She did not say why authorities are concerned.

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 and said on Friday Cortez was observed to have multiple cut wounds to her upper body. An autopsy is scheduled for Friday to determine the cause of death, police said.

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.

Peter Virts, 63, said he called Bobbie Jo Cortez's phone to find out what was going on, but his grandson answered.

"Pop pop, I can't talk right now," the boy said, and handed the phone to a detective, according to Virts.

Cortez was already dead. Virts said the boy "knew, but he couldn't say."

Peter Virts, speaking outside his East Baltimore rowhome, said he had no idea where his son might have taken the girl. He urged him to call and let him go pick her up.

He described Caitlyn as a "daddy's girl."

"I just want him to bring the baby home," he said.

A police cruiser sat in the driveway of the gray one-story house on Ardee Way late Thursday. A tire swing rotated in the wind in the front yard, a dented children's lacrosse stick lay in the snow, and there was considerable damage to the slats in the closed blinds in several of the windows.

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, Peter Virts sought a protective order from his son. He wrote in court papers that Timothy had threatened him with violence.

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.

Timothy Virts would sometimes spend weekends with his twin daughters, according to his father. The older Virts, who said he adopted some of Timothy Virts' other children, wants the twin girls to live with him once the ordeal is over.

Mindy Lopez, Bobbie Jo Cortez's stepsister, said the two had lost touch with recently.

"She was a good-hearted person," said Lopez, who lives in Arbutus. "She definitely didn't deserve this. … "She loved her kids to death."

The Center for Missing & Exploited Children is asking anyone with information to immediately call 911 or Baltimore County Police Department at 410-887-7320.

"Do not take action which could endanger your safety or further endanger the abducted child," the center said.

This article has been updated to correct the name of Timothy Virts.

Baltimore Sun reporters Jessica Anderson, Ian Duncan, Justin Fenton and Jonathan Pitts contributed to this article.

alisonk@baltsun.com

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