GARY, Ind. – Investigators and family members say they are suspicious about the account the cousin of a 2-year-old girl has given of how the child went missing from outside a convenience store.
Authorities continued a search Thursday for 2-year-old Jada Justice of Portage that began when 18-year-old Angelica Castillo told police she discovered the child was missing when she returned to the car Tuesday night after buying a gallon of milk.
"We are leery of the baby sitter's accounting of the facts, but right now that's all we have to work with," Gary police Cmdr. Anthony Titus said.
Castillo was being held by the Gary Police Department as a person of interest, but Titus said preliminarily it did not appear she had anything to do with the toddler's disappearance.
Clarence Justice, the missing girl's father, said Thursday he doesn't believe Castillo's story.
"Why are you going to park on one side of the building while it's raining outside pouring rain if you got to go in the store and get some milk," he said. "Why wouldn't you park in the front and run in and grab the milk? Why would you leave the doors unlocked so somebody could grab a child out of the car?"
Mike Valdez, the girl's uncle, said he could not understand why Castillo didn't leave Jada with her boyfriend while she ran the errand and why she drove past several other convenience stores before stopping at the store in Gary. He also doesn't understand why police dogs were unable to pick up Jada's scent at the scene.
"Obviously if the baby was there fresh in the car seat, the dog would have eventually picked up her scent as well," he said.
Customers told police officers they saw no one around Castillo's 1991 Cadillac Fleetwood while it was parked in the convenience store's parking lot.
Police in the neighboring city of Hobart obtained a search warrant for Castillo's home Wednesday, where they found bloody crib sheets. Hobart investigators determined the blood came from a dog in heat, and shifted the investigation back to Gary.
The FBI on Thursday set up a hotline — 1-800-CALL-FBI — for tips concerning the missing girl.
Authorities said Wednesday night the focus of the search will be in three areas — the Gary neighborhood where Jada was reported missing, as well as neighborhoods in both Hobart and Porter County. Gary police spokeswoman Cpl. Gabrielle King did not return telephone messages left by The Associated Press on Thursday.
Valdez said his niece was staying with Castillo because Jada's mother had planned to go out of town with a boyfriend and was visiting friends.
Valdez urged Castillo to tell the truth about what happened.
"If there's anything you're not telling us, let us know," he said.
Justice said family members have been passing out leaflets about the girl to gas stations and grocery stores. He said the only thing he's concerned about is Jada's safe return.
"All I'm asking is if they got her then drop her off at a fire station or library, police station. Just drop her off at somewhere where somebody can get to her and start identifying her to bring her back home to me," he said.