Timothy Virts, right, is a suspect in the abduction of daughter… (Photos provided by Baltimore…)
A nationwide hunt ended Friday night when Caitlyn Marie Virts, the 11-year-old girl missing since her mother was found killed in their Dundalk home on Thursday, was located in a motel room in Florence, S.C., with her father, Timothy Virts, who was taken into custody, Baltimore County police said.
"He is in custody, and she is safe," Cpl. John Wachter, a police spokesman, told The Baltimore Sun.
Virts, 38, was under warrant for arrest in connection with the stabbing death of Caitlyn's mother, Bobbie Jo Cortez, 36, who was found bound with duct tape in her bed in her home in the 3100 block of Ardee Way on Thursday morning.
Wachter said the Maryland Department of Social Services was in contact with their counterparts in South Carolina, working on arrangements to return Caitlyn to her relatives here. Baltimore County police detectives will travel to South Carolina, where Timothy Virts is being held on an FBI charge of unlawful flight.
The father and daughter had checked in Thursday night at the Colonial Inn in Florence, Jon Gause, the motel's owner, told The Sun. An employee had seen the Amber Alert issued for Caitlyn on Facebook and called the police, Gause said.
"I saw him as they were putting them into cars," Gause said referring to Virts and his daughter. Police had arrived shortly after he started his night shift at 10 p.m., Gause said.
"There were several law enforcement agencies working. There were enough people to overwhelm any situation," he said. He said he spoke to several officers at the scene, who told him Virts "seemed like he was perhaps ready to give up."
Caitlyn's grandparents expressed gratitude that the girl, whom police said appeared to be unharmed, had been found. She was temporarily being held by South Carolina social service caseworkers on Saturday, Baltimore County Police Chief James W. Johnson said, who added that investigators do not believe that Caitlyn was physically harmed during the hours she was missing.
"I'm relieved," said Daniel Wallace, Cortez's father.
"I want to give her a big hug," Anna Trainor Goodwin, Cortez's mother, said of Caitlyn. "Hug her very hard."
Trainor Goodwin had last talked to her daughter on Sunday. "She gave me a real big hug, and said, 'Mommy, I love you so much,'" Trainor Goodwin said. "I had a feeling something was wrong."
Cortez, however, brushed off the concern, she said, but Trainor Goodwin added that she believed the couple were fighting over custody issues with Caitlyn and her twin sister.
Police credited the Amber Alert, issued locally after Caitlyn was discovered missing but subsequently expanded nationally, with helping to locate the girl.
"Absolutely," Wachter said. "That helped bring Caitlyn home."
Wachter said police received numerous tips of sightings and had been following up on all of them. Johnson said credible tips led his investigators to believe that the pair was in North Carolina sometime Friday before Florence law enforcement authorities had zeroed in on the Dodge Virts was driving at the Colonial Inn at about 8 p.m.
Police expressed their gratitude for all those who helped in the nationwide search, which had been assisted by the FBI. Johnson said it was a combination of media reports, social media messaging and broad law enforcement cooperation that led to Caitlyn's recovery.
"I'm overjoyed," Wachter said, so much so that he tweeted "We found her" at 10:13 p.m., even as he was still on the phone receiving the news from police officials.
Detectives obtained an arrest warrant Friday for Timothy Virts, in connection with the death of Bobbie Jo Cortez. The FBI placed Timothy Virts on the agency's wanted list and also issued a warrant for him.
Police had been looking for a black 1999 Dodge Durango with Maryland tag 5AJ4458. The vehicle is registered to 38-year-old Daniel Williams Cortez, who was married to Bobbie Jo and has been jailed since December on sex offense charges.
Police have not determined a possible motive and have no reason to believe that Cortez's charges are related to the case, Baltimore County police spokeswoman Elise Armacost said. Detectives obtained the warrant based on interviews with others in the house and physical evidence from the scene, police said.
Johnson said Saturday that police do have a murder weapon in their evidence.
"This was a very violent, brutal murder," he said.
Daniel Wallace said Timothy Virts was especially close to Caitlyn and believed he did not take her twin sister because the twin suffers from medical problems that might need treatment.
When Caitlyn's sister woke up for school Thursday morning, she discovered her mother dead in bed, according to Wallace, who lives in Carrollton Ridge in Southwest Baltimore.
"I know she was duct-taped and stabbed. I'm sure she saw her life go through her eyes," Wallace said of Bobbie Jo. "She was my life. I don't know what I am going to do."