FBI working to crack some of Washington's most haunting missing children cases

SEATTLE -- Special agents with the FBI are working tirelessly every day to resolve some of Washington's most devastating cases: those of missing children.

With Monday marking National Missing Person's Day, they're hoping to get new information that could help finally crack some cases wide open.

"While they’re very difficult cases to work and emotionally taxing, there’s nothing more important I think than what the FBI does with our squad," says Special Agent Kera O'Reilley.

She is one of the members of a special squad that combats violence against children and helps find the missing.

The squad works the disappearances of children every step of the way.

"I think people probably don't realize the daily effort we put in, trying to identify these children, trying to find them," says Special Agent Ian Burns.

The unit works all kinds of missing children cases, many involving exploited children lured into dangerous situations they can't begin to comprehend.

"Seattle does have an extremely severe human trafficking problem," says Agent Burns.

The squad is heavily invested in the case of missing 18-year-old Kelsey Collins. Family told Q13 News that the Everett teen vanished in 2009, two weeks after testifying before a grand jury about child sex trafficking.

Another all too common type of case involves children kidnapped by their parents. The bureau is actively working on the case of now 6-year-old Aranza Lopez, who was taken by her mother during a supervised visit in Vancouver, Washington.

"She was dangerous to her child, there was  a history of abuse," says Agent O'Reilley.

The FBI located her mother in Mexico, but Aranza is still missing. Agent O'Reilley says there's a reason why the child was a ward of the state, and the agency feels the little girl isn't safe.

"We are convinced that there are many people who know where she is."

Then there are cases, albeit rare, but still horrifying: stranger abductions.

Such seems to be the case in the haunting disappearance of 2-year-old Teekah Lewis, who was taken from a Tacoma bowling alley in 1999. It's a case that Agent O'Reilley says the department will never give up on.

"That certainly is one that's solvable, its something we have a lot of information and we're looking for more information from the community to find out exactly what happened."

The gut-wrenching unknowns consume Teekah's mother no less now than they did 21 years ago.

"I need to know what happened to my baby," says Theresa Lewis.

Earlier this year Q13 News shared an interview with an eyewitness who saw a Caucasian man with shoulder lengthy curly hair, a thick mustache, and a heavily pockmarked face walking with the toddler towards the exit.

"Out of 21 years this is the first year that I've ever felt that she wasn't coming home, and it breaks my heart because all these years, I really thought she would come home...all I've ever wanted in 21 years is answers."

It's the anguish, heartbreak, and nightmare of it all that fuels the agents to work harder than any of us could ever know.

"I think the hardest part of the  job is also the best part of the job, its that you're working cases, knowing the background of these children, and you're working with their loved ones and they're telling you stories about their childhood, so it's not just a case to us; it's's a child. And you know their loved ones and you want to be a part of adding to the next chapter of their future," says Agent O'Reilley.

If you have any information on any missing child, you can contact the FBI at 1-800-225-5342. You can also always submit an anonymous tip through Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.

In addition to the work the squad puts into finding missing children, they spend a lot of time trying to prevent these crimes. They have resources on their website that can help parents know of the various dangers children can face, and ways to help keep them safe.

These tips may be important now more than ever, according to special agents, as it pertains to the internet.

"Children are absolutely at more risk now, they're home alone with access to the internet and unfortunately anytime young children have access to the internet and are able to interact with other people there’s always the opportunity for exploitation, and we've certainly seen a fair amount of that during this COVID pandemic," says Agent Burns. "It's a risk they always experience, however, having all that time alone with a computer can absolutely put them at higher risk than normal."

He adds that parents educating themselves on the different sites their children may have access to is crucial.