By Bob Uphues
Riverside police charged a 39-year-old man, who investigators said styled himself as a minister who "helps children from abusive situations," with harboring a 16-year-old girl who has been missing since at least Dec. 29, 2019, when she walked away from a shelter in Chicago.
The girl's family, however, lives in Cleveland, and it's not clear exactly how long the girl had been missing from her Ohio home. Her parents had been repeatedly contacting police agencies in the Chicago area, including Riverside, for the past month seeking their daughter's return.
She was found by police at about 8:30 p.m. on Jan. 26, inside a car parked in the first block of East Burlington Street in downtown Riverside. The vehicle's owner, Juan Ocampo, who lives in an apartment above a business on the block, was taken into custody and charged with harboring a missing juvenile, obstructing police and endangering the life of a child.
Riverside police say they are still investigating the case, along with Cleveland police, and don't yet have a clear idea of how the girl ended up with Ocampo, other than some indications that he knew friends of the girl.
The girl's parents drove from Cleveland and initially agreed to have their daughter participate in a forensic interview to glean more information about the relationship between her and Ocampo. The parents then decided against it and returned to Cleveland with their daughter.
Prior to being turned over to her parents, the girl was examined at MacNeal Hospital in Berwyn for any signs that she may have been abused and police also notified the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.
While there were no outward signs of abuse, said police, "there were obvious signs of psychological abuse."
Police Chief Thomas Weitzel said his department was first notified of the missing girl and of Ocampo's possible involvement by Chicago police on Jan. 8. Police visited Ocampo's apartment six times, said Weitzel, and Ocampo denied officers entry on five occasions.
On Jan. 26 an officer on patrol observed two girls inside Ocampo's car out front of the apartment and initiated a traffic stop. Ocampo allegedly told police both girls were his daughters. While one of the girls was his daughter, police eventually were able to determine the other was the missing girl and took her into protective custody.
Weitzel said Ocampo claimed to run a ministry that helps young people living on the streets of Chicago and that he puts them up in his Riverside apartment.
"His claim … is ludicrous," Weitzel said in a press release. "Our investigation clearly showed that he hid this juvenile, not only from her parents and other family members, but from law enforcement as well."
Press reports from late 2019 indicate the girl had been missing since at least late December. The Daily Herald reported the Cook County Sheriff's Police was seeking the public's help in locating the girl, last seen Dec. 22 at The Harbour, a youth home in Des Plaines.
At the time, the girl was said to be a "youth in care" was considered "endangered." She was located on Dec. 29 in west suburban Berkeley and placed, according to Riverside police records, at a "night ministry shelter in Chicago."
However, the girl left that facility that same day and had been last seen near the intersection of Noble and Division streets in Chicago.