UPDATE | Reward for missing Gainesville girl raised to $30K

12-year-old likely in danger, Hall County sheriff says
Maria Gomez-Perez, 12, of Gainesville, was reported missing May 30.

Credit: Hall County Sheriff's Office

Credit: Hall County Sheriff's Office

Maria Gomez-Perez, 12, of Gainesville, was reported missing May 30.

A day after authorities said a missing 12-year-old Gainesville girl was likely in danger, an anonymous citizen made a donation that raised the reward for the girl’s safe return to $30,000.

Maria Gomez-Perez was last seen at her home May 29 and was reported missing the next day, according to the Hall County Sheriff’s Office. Investigators believe she may have made contact with an unknown person who picked her up from her house, Hall Sheriff Gerald Couch said at a news conference Tuesday.

Couch provided updates on the investigation nearly two weeks after Maria’s disappearance and said both federal and international authorities have joined local law enforcement in trying to find her. He acknowledged that Maria may have willingly left her home.

Asked if Maria was thought to be in danger, Couch replied, “Well, she’s 12 years old and she’s been gone a week and a half, so I think that answers your question. She’s a child, and to be gone that long, that’s a serious issue.”

“But yes, I do consider her in danger. Very much so,” Couch said.

At the time, a group of anonymous citizens had pledged $20,000 to a reward fund for information leading to Maria’s safe return. An anonymous businessperson donated an additional $10,000 to the reward, Couch said Wednesday.

“As investigators with the Hall County Sheriff’s Office and other law enforcement agencies push forward in efforts to locate Maria, I am again thankful for another outpouring of support with the extra reward funding,” Couch said. “Someone in the community has that single clue or piece of information that could lead to Maria. I pray this increased reward is encouragement for them to come forward.”

The FBI, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, GBI, Gainesville Police Department and the Consulate General of Guatemala have joined Hall County deputies in the search, Couch said.

According to the sheriff, investigators have visited Maria’s home several times and conducted multiple interviews with family members, friends and her school acquaintances. The team has employed forensics techniques, electronics and K-9 units to thoroughly search the home and other areas. Representatives from the Guatemalan consulate and FBI agents trained in Guatemalan dialect assisted local investigators as they interviewed members of Maria’s community.

Investigators conducted targeted ground searches using drone teams and K-9s, searched Lake Lanier and seized multiple phones, the contents of which are being investigated, he said.

Couch has faced questions about why he didn’t issue a Levi’s Call (Georgia’s version of an Amber Alert) after Maria disappeared.

He said the conditions of the case did not meet the criteria for a Levi’s Call as set by the GBI. He pointed out that the sheriff’s office could only offer a generic description of Maria, and did not have a description of a suspected abductor or their vehicle.

While no Levi’s Call went out, Couch said the sheriff’s office performed a “media blitz” that included posters, digital billboards and distribution of an alert through the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

A flyer for missing Gainesville 12-year-old Maria Gomez-Perez.

Credit: Hall County Sheriff's Office

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Credit: Hall County Sheriff's Office

Any tips regarding Maria’s disappearance should be directed to the Hall County Sheriff’s Office office’s special investigations unit at 770-503-3232 or intelrequest@hallcounty.org. Tips may also be phoned in to 911 or Hall County dispatch at 770-536-8812.