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Search for Oceanside Girl Kept on Front Burner : Kidnaping: Police and family remain confident Leticia Hernandez will be found as a renewed plea is issued for witnesses to her Dec. 16 abduction and cross-country trek.

May 09, 1990|YOLANDA RODRIGUEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Nearly five months have passed since Leticia Hernandez disappeared from her family's Bush Street home in Oceanside. But her mother, the police, and a major corporation have not given up the hope that the 7-year-old girl will be brought home safely.

On Tuesday, Oceanside police said investigators are reviewing the more than 1,800 possible leads that the case--which has attracted national attention--has generated.

Bill Krunglevich, a spokesman for the Oceanside Police Department, urged people who may have seen the little girl or her abductors in the San Diego area in December to call police with any details they may be able to recall, no matter how insignificant the details seem.

The last four confirmed sightings of Leticia were in February and March in northern Florida. The little girl's disappearance has generated substantial media attention--including television segments on "Crime Stoppers," "Unsolved Mysteries" and "America's Most Wanted."

Each confirmed sighting, and the subsequent media attention, has lead to numerous leads, Krunglevich said.

FBI agents in northern Florida are investigating a possible sighting on April 29, Krunglevich said. The sighting is unconfirmed, he said, declining to give more details.

Locally, investigators are hoping people who may have had contact with Leticia or the people seen with her in the first hours and days of her disappearance will come forward.

"The case is still active," Krunglevich said. "Somebody may have had contact with them. . . . Maybe someone who saw them has not come forward yet.

"It was in December, around Christmas (and) around New Year's . . . we are hoping to rekindle some thoughts."

Leticia disappeared about 6 p.m. Dec. 16 while she was playing with her younger brother on the front steps of her home.

Within six hours of her disappearance, a child fitting Leticia's description was seen at the Buckman Springs rest stop on Interstate 8, about 40 miles east of San Diego and more than 80 miles from her home. A white man was seen standing near her. The witness did not report the incident until several days later, when she saw the little girl's picture on television.

Then on Dec. 19 and 20 Leticia was seen at the Mt. Laguna Campgrounds with the white man and a white woman who have been described by witnesses throughout Leticia's travels eastward.

The last confirmed sighting in San Diego County was on Dec. 26 in Ocotillo. Leticia was seen at the Ocotillo Restaurant with the man, Oceanside police Lt. Ron Call said.

Details given by witnesses at each of these sightings have been sketchy, Call said. That is why investigators are hoping more people will recall details now and come forward.

Since her disappearance, Leticia has been seen near the Arizona-New Mexico border, Texas, Alabama and Colorado.

The sighting in Colorado was followed about 10 days later by the first sighting in Panama City, Fla., on Feb. 2. That sighting was followed by others in Florida: Feb. 5, in Branford; March 26, in Greensboro, and March 31 in Marianna.

Although investigators are not discounting the Colorado sighting, they are concentrating their publicity and investigative efforts in the northern Florida area, said Bob George, another spokesman for Oceanside police.

Closer to home, the little girl's disappearance has touched many people. A reward fund was established at Great American Bank in December. And to that fund the Southland Corp. on Tuesday donated more than $2,400. Company officers presented the check to Oceanside Capt. Gene Barry, of the department's investigative unit.

The money was collected in fund-raising canisters on counters of 7-Eleven stores throughout the county. Posters detailing her disappearance have been placed in about 2,500 stores throughout the South.

Leticia's uncle, Javier Hernandez, works at one of Southland's 7-Eleven stores in Carlsbad; Leticia's family attended church with the owner of another 7-Eleven store, said Michelle Van Steenbergen, a field consultant for the corporation.

"From the very beginning (the disappearance) was personal," Van Steenbergen said. Leticia is "like a member of our own family."

In Leticia's home, her family has not lost hope they will see the little girl soon. Her mother, also named Leticia Hernandez, is expecting a baby within the next few days.

She smiled and her face glowed as she spoke of the new baby and of Leticia. "I want them both here with me," she said on Tuesday.

Oceanside police have stuck pins onto a map at the points Leticia has been seen. One pin is wrapped in tape. The pin is attached to a police department sticker. The sticker says the pin is for Leticia, "When we bring her home."

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