‘We are all doing everything within our power to bring Maria home safe and sound’

Hall County Sheriff Gerald Couch offered a detailed status report during a Tuesday afternoon news
conference on the ongoing investigation into the disappearance of 12-year-old Maria Gomez-Perez of Gainesville, declaring “We are all doing everything within our power to bring Maria home safe and sound.”

Maria was reported missing May 30, setting into motion a large law enforcement and community effort to find her.


“…“Make no mistake, the men and women of the sheriff’s office and numerous other agencies
have Maria’s image burned into our hearts and minds.”

The Hall County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) includes a Criminal Investigations Bureau, which is made up
of approximately 50 team members. All of them have touched the investigation. Most of them have
worked double-time since Maria was reported missing. These include not only the Persons Section
but the Special Investigations Unit, Intelligence Unit and Crime Scene Unit. Additionally, the Patrol
Division, K9 Unit, Warrant Service Unit, administrative staff and the Court Services Division have
been involved in the effort.

Men and women with the following agencies and entities offered invaluable help, and they continue
to work with HCSO on the case.

  • Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI)
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
  • Gainesville Police Department
  • U.S. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI)
  • Consulate General of Guatemala in Atlanta
  • A tremendous effort from community groups, businesses and individuals

Just on the investigator front, FBI has provided a dozen personnel, HSI contributed six and GBI four,
bringing the total number of investigators to roughly 70, including several intelligence analysts.
Early on, HCSO began disseminating its tip line and the email address for tips. Since publicizing this
contact information, investigators have received approximately 50 tips, bringing the total tips/leads
to nearly 70 in Maria’s case. Each one has been thoroughly examined and acted upon.

Additionally, the HCSO team and other investigators have physically been on-scene at Maria’s
residence on numerous occasions, starting the day she was reported missing. The latest search
there happened over this past weekend and included FBI agents. Work at the home has included
interviews, forensics, electronics and K9s, which were used to search the area thoroughly.

The sheriff’s office team and other law enforcement has interviewed everyone who lives in Maria’s
home, including her father, all of whom are believed to be from Guatemala. Individuals with the
Guatemalan consulate and FBI (who know the dialect those individuals speak) have assisted with
interviews. HCSO and other law enforcement has also interviewed school officials, Maria’s friends,
several of her social media friends as well as neighbors. Investigators have canvassed the area
(which means door-to-door) asking for information.

HCSO and others have conducted targeted ground searches, which have involved K9s and the HCSO
drone team, which is also trained in searches. Additionally, the sheriff’s office Marine Unit boat has
been utilized to search portions of the lake. Investigators will continue to use searches when they’re
appropriate to the information at hand.

Investigators have seized numerous phones during their work. Data from the phones has been
downloaded, and intelligence unit members continue to process it. Leads already generated with the
data are being explored. Additionally, investigators from HCSO, as well as the GBI, FBI and HSI have
done an extensive amount of work on social media, examining and reviewing Maria’s online
acquaintances, friends and anyone she has associated with. FBI has assisted with out-of-state leads
as well.

All known video footage of any plausible value in the case has been downloaded and
reviewed. If anyone has video and has not provided it, investigators would like to have it.
HCSO has also worked extensively on getting the word out on Maria’s disappearance, along with its
community partners.

  • Sheriff’s Office provided approximately 5,000 fliers and or posters to individuals.
  • HCSO posted flier information in different formats to its social media accounts and websites
  • Sheriff’s Office placed four traffic message boards on heavily traveled roads in the county
    with information on Maria.
  • Community and business partners expedited PSAs promoting the search for Maria on three
    digital billboards.
  • HCSO reported Maria’s case to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children who
    featured her story on its various channels.

“We understand that cases like these can leave the community very unsettled, wanting to do
anything it can to help,” Sheriff Couch said. “First, it sounds cliché, but remember Maria and the folks
working to bring her home in your thoughts and prayers.”

Sheriff Couch also asked the community to continue spreading the word about Maria’s case, and
most importantly, share accurate information about the investigation and contact avenues for tips.
That information is on widely distributed HCSO flier, which can be downloaded at the top of the
sheriff’s office page on hallcounty.org. It can also be downloaded at the top of
hallcountysheriffsoffice.org. Anyone with information on Maria’s whereabouts can use the
information to contact the sheriff’s office. Tipsters can remain anonymous.

“Someone out in the community has that one clue or bit of information that could be the key to
breaking this case wide open,” Sheriff Couch said. I urge anyone who might have information about
Maria’s disappearance to reach out to our investigators and share what they have. Please also
remember the $20,000 reward for information leading to Maria’s safe return. We again thank the
anonymous donors who stepped forward with generosity to make that happen.””

(Click here to view a video of the full news conference: Facebook)