Crime

Psychic, K9s, high-tech help, and still no sign of a missing mom and daughter

Cops ask for public's help in finding missing mom and daughter

Assistant Miami-Dade Police Director Freddy Ramirez discusses the case of Liliana Moreno and her 8-year-old daughter Daniela on September 8, 2016. Moreno and Daniela have been missing since May 31.
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Assistant Miami-Dade Police Director Freddy Ramirez discusses the case of Liliana Moreno and her 8-year-old daughter Daniela on September 8, 2016. Moreno and Daniela have been missing since May 31.

Liliana Moreno and her 8-year-old daughter Daniela have vanished.

If any physical clues have been found, police aren’t saying. Other than automatic electronic payments, there has been no movement on Moreno’s credit cards or in her bank account. No one has received a phone call. No note has been found.

When police began searching for Moreno and her daughter on May 31, they discovered Daniela had not been in school. Her mom’s purse and wallet were inside their Northwest Miami-Dade home, yet the front door was locked and her car was still in its spot.

Searches in waterways and over marshlands came up empty. Desperate family members contacted a psychic, hired private investigators and even suggested that Moreno, 42, and Daniela might have been kidnapped by human traffickers.

Meanwhile, the lone person of interest in the mysterious case has managed to keep a low profile — despite a bizarre June episode at a Home Depot parking lot.

That’s where police found Gustavo Castaño, Daniela’s father, stabbing and trying to poison himself in a truck as a police officer fired a Taser at him. A prong from the Taser struck Castaño in his right eye and left him partially blind. He’s now back at work doing construction. He has maintained his innocence.

Frustrated but still clinging to hope, family members and friends spent Thursday — the 100th day since Moreno and her daughter disappeared — at Miami-Dade police headquarters. They urged the public not to forget about the missing mother and her young daughter and asked anyone with information to come forward.

“We need to know what happened with my sister and my niece,” said Moreno’s brother Eduardo Moreno Ramirez. “This can’t happen here. I have hope.”

Assistant Miami-Dade Police Director Freddy Ramirez shied from details about the case. Asked if Castaño remained a potential suspect, Ramirez said, “We’re looking at every angle.”

Family members said Castaño was married to another woman when Daniela was born and called his relationship with Moreno “stormy.” Moreno, an architect, often worked with Castaño, who was in construction. They said that before Moreno disappeared she contacted the Colombian consulate in Miami with concerns about Castaño. A spokesman with the consulate would not confirm that on Thursday.

“Friends told us that there really were threats. Although she never told us ‘Gustavo is threatening us,’ ” said Moreno’s sister Carolina Moreno Ramirez. “He said he was going to do something to her or her family in Colombia. But we don’t know what was the motive behind the threat.”

Police were first contacted about the missing mom and her daughter when they got a phone call from Moreno’s sister from Colombia on May 31. Though it was a Tuesday, they quickly learned that Daniela hadn’t been at school for almost a week. At Moreno’s apartment on Northwest 107th Avenue and 50th Street, they found no signs of a struggle — but they did find her purse, keys and the front door locked. Her car was in the parking lot.

That led to searches in canals and woods from the Doral area and out west by friends, family and police with K9s. The searches came up empty. Then on June 3, police found a distraught Castaño in his truck in the parking lot of a Home Depot in Hialeah Gardens.

As they approached, they found Castaño had been drinking a poisonous substance they have yet to name. Police also said they found him stabbing himself in the neck. To try to stop him, an officer said he used his Taser, striking Castaño in the eye.

Castaño’s attorney Michael Grieco, who said his client has cooperated with police, said Castaño is now back at work and has chosen to keep a low profile.

“He’s still going through a level of mourning,” Grieco said. “And adjusting to life with one eye isn’t easy.”

Even after police found Castaño in his frenzied state, the searches for Moreno and her daughter continued. In late June, more than 50 people, including the father of a slain University of Florida freshman, a Doral council member and members of the Missing Children’s Network, searched wooded areas in the southwestern area of the county.

Again, nothing.

On Thursday, Moreno’s sister Carolina Moreno Ramirez said she refuses to give up.

“I don’t want to spend the rest of my life like this. Just a few days ago they found the remains of a little boy after 28 years because the main suspect in that case never talked until now,” she said. “We really need to solve this. I need to find them. We need to know what happened to them in order to be able to move on with our lives.”

El Nuevo Herald staff writer Sergio Candido contributed to this report.

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