Missing Barcelona girl found in Amazon jungle seven months after disappearance. Neighbor charged with taking her.

 


Alleged Bolivian kidnapper Grover Morales is seen at the time of his arrival to a court to appear before a judge in Cochabamba, Bolivia, 10 March 2014. Morales allegedly kept the Moroccan girl (who lived in Spain) captive for seven months. EPA

Seven months after her disappearance, a nine-year-old Barcelona girl has resurfaced in a remote pocket of the Amazon jungle, nearly 6,000 miles away from her hometown, in a terrain that’s barely reachable by car.

The remote region where the missing girl was located. (Map: Tobey - The Washington Post)
The remote region where the missing girl was located. (Map: Tobey – The Washington Post)

The child had been missing since last August when her parents, Moroccan residents in the Catalan city of Hospitalet de Llobregat, allowed her to go on holiday with a Bolivian neighbor Grover Morales, according to news reports.

Authorities arrested Morales, who reportedly said he wanted to make the girl his “wife.” He will be extradited on human trafficking and child abuse charges.

Bolivian newspaper El Periodico reports Morales was arrested 10 years ago on charges of raping his two sisters, but wasn’t incarcerated long. “The mother prevented her daughters from testifying and he was released,” a police spokesperson told El Periodico.

The nine-year-old girl’s mother and father contacted local police when they were unable to contact the pair several days after they had landed in their alleged destination of Bolivia.

Over the last several months, Spanish, Catalonian, and Bolivian authorities have worked to find the girl, and finally came upon her in the Chapare province in the Cochabamba region of Bolivia. Villages in that terrain don’t often consist of more than a few huts, and there’s little outside communication.

Bolivian police say they found Morales after local villagers report he’d led the girl by hand to a local religious center and introduced her as his “daughter.”

One especially peculiar element is that the parents apparently told few people their child was missing, according to reports in Barcelona newspaper La Vanguardia.  “It was a surprise,” next door neighbor Maria Angeles says, explaining that when droves of television reporters materialized outside her door, she thought she’d “won the lottery.”

The child, whose identity hasn’t been released, will soon be returned to her parents, who haven’t returned journalists’ requests for comment.  Morales is awaiting extradition back to Spain.

Terrence McCoy is a foreign affairs writer at the Washington Post. He served in the U.S. Peace Corps in Cambodia and studied international politics at Columbia University. Follow him on Twitter here.
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