Police Looking for Missing California Teen Find Car Abandoned Near Mexico

Tiffany Meier
By Tiffany Meier
April 21, 2019US News
Police Looking for Missing California Teen Find Car Abandoned Near Mexico
LASD is looking for Alora Benitez, 15, last seen with her mother and a friend, both murder suspects. (Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department)

Police searching for a missing 15-year-old girl who disappeared with two murder suspects have found their car abandoned near the Mexico border in California.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said in a statement released on Friday, April 19, that police found an empty white BMW sedan in the San Ysidro area, which is known as a major border crossing into Mexico.

The 15-year-old teen, Alora Benitez, was last seen in Torrance, Calif. in the vehicle on April 17, along with her mother, Maricela Mercado, 40; and Roman Cerratos, 39; both of whom are suspected of killing a man, authorities said.

The car, a 2013 BMW with four doors, had a Nevada license plate reading “MARIMAR.”

Both adults are considered “armed and dangerous” and are suspects in a murder investigation, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

“Her family is concerned for her safety,” police said in a statement.

The victim, Jeffrey Appel, 32, was found dead in the front seat of a white Audi in the city of Carson, Calif., on April 16, police said.

“Alora Benitez’s mother and the adult male are murder suspects in an investigation of a male who was found dead in the front seat of a White Audi that was parked behind 400 Block of East Carson Plaza Drive in the city Carson on (Tuesday),” the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said in the statement.

While authorities have not revealed how Appel was killed, or what the motive behind the killing might have been, according to KTLA, “what appeared to be blood was visible on the exterior of the car he was in, and what looked like a trail of blood extended across the parking lot and into the street.”

Lt. Brandon Dean said in a statement that the victim’s cause of death was still pending, while an earlier report described the crime as a deadly stabbing.

Appel was from Las Vegas and Mercado has family in Nevada, however, it is unclear whether she or Cerratos had any connection to Appel, police said.

Authorities describe the teen as 5 feet 2 inches tall and weighing about 100 pounds, with brown hair and brown eyes.

Cerratos is described as a Hispanic man measuring around 6 feet 1 inch tall and weighing about 210 pounds with a bald head and brown eyes. Mercado is a Hispanic woman who is roughly 5 feet 3 inches tall and weighing around 130 pounds with brown hair and brown eyes, officials said.

It is unclear whether the teenager voluntarily left with the suspects.

The level of severity of the amber alert is “Extreme—Extraordinary threat to life or property.”

Authorities have appealed to the public for help in locating the missing teen.

Anyone with information on this investigation may call Detective Lawler or Detective Blagg with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department at 323-890-5500.

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