By Terrence McCoy
By Allie Conti
By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
A panicked Lucely combed Miami Beach's sandy shores and the Grove's Peacock Park. She finally found Lilly one morning at a bus stop, propped next to Lamaso. "They had been doing heroin," Lucely says. "She looked very bad."
She sent her daughter to a rehabilitation center, but after only a week, Lilly escaped and returned to Lamaso. She relapsed. "Their relationship was never a healthy one," says Marta Godoy, Lamaso's mother, adding that her son is now in Puerto Rico studying to be a Buddhist monk.
By 2004, Lilly and Lamaso added crack cocaine to their drug diet. "I noticed she became angrier," Lucely says, "more irritable."
Lilly didn't like herself when she was high, her mom says. She tried to get clean, at one point taking an interest in Buddhism. But then she was again diagnosed with depression and schizophrenia. "She was paranoid and having hallucinations," Lucely says.
In January 2006, Lilly became pregnant by Lamaso and really tried to clean up. She gave up drugs and earned her GED. In September, she gave birth to a son, Palden.
One of the people who helped her through the pregnancy was Internet media strategist Janet Forte, who met Lilly four years ago while taking Buddhism courses. "Lilly was sweet, kind, and compassionate," Forte recalls. "[Around the time she became pregnant], her perspective changed. She was making an effort to do the right things and set herself up in a positive way."
The friendship has sparked Forte's mission to find her missing "hippie-pixie" buddy. It combines old-fashioned research with digital-age information gathering.
More than 40,000 unidentified bodies are reported across the nation each year, according to federal law enforcement records. And there are more than 100,000 reports of missing persons. Some of them are children. Others are elderly people who have simply disappeared. South Florida, because of its high proportion of senior citizens — and good weather that allows people to be outside often — is a particular mecca.
The Miami-Dade County Police Department receives a monthly average of 400 to 600 reports of people gone missing, says Capt. Janna Bolinger-Heller, head of the domestic crimes bureau. In 2007, there were 5,000 people reported vanished — at least temporarily — in unincorporated Miami-Dade. This year, to date, there are 3,500 active missing-persons cases.
"We are talking about runaways to elderly folks who walk away from a nursing home," Bolinger-Heller says. "And with adults, they can go missing on purpose too." Ninety percent of missing-persons cases are closed within a year, she adds.
Methods of searching for missing people have come a long way since kids' faces were stamped on milk cartons. DNA sampling has helped. So have all the techniques showcased on the nationally syndicated show Missing, which documents authorities' attempts to find missing persons. As of August 29, producers boast of having found 460 people.
But the Internet is probably the most important tool. It has helped create a subculture of amateur sleuths hell-bent on solving cold cases throughout the nation.
Locally, the Boca Raton Police Department launched a MySpace page and posted a video on YouTube to garner leads in the murders of 47-year-old Nancy Bochicchio and her seven-year-old daughter Joey, whose bodies were discovered last December 13 outside Boca's Town Center mall.
When 16-year-old Jordan Mentore of Port St. Lucie went missing this past July 6, her parents posted a video of the teen on YouTube to reach out for help. She was found six weeks later with three other teens inside a vacant house under foreclosure.
Websites such as SomeoneIsMissing.com and Find-missing-children.org create, at no charge, individual websites of disappeared people that serve as online posters. Find-missing-children.org, operated by the Brandon, Florida-based Child Protection Education of America, has an online form that people can use to report sightings.
But committed individuals such as Janet Forte need to drive the Internet machine. A rail-thin woman with probing hazel eyes and an eclectic hairstyle that combines elements of a bob and a mullet, Forte lives and works in a small Little Haiti apartment. There, along with husband Manuel Marrero, she runs a company called Subliminal Pixels Lab, which helps companies drive traffic to their websites. The walls are lined with photographs of Lilly, usually sporting a wide smile. In one picture, she cradles her baby. In another, she sits cross-legged before a Buddhist altar.
Ten months ago, Forte created a MySpace homepage (www.myspace.com/missinglillyaramburo) as well as "Group" and "Causes" pages, where people who join can read about Lilly's disappearance and how to help. She also posted photos of Lilly on Flickr.com and MyMilkCarton.org, a site that allows people to post information and pictures of missing loved ones. And then there's a blog called justiceinmiami.blogspot.com. Every day Forte updates it all, often criticizing the Miami-Dade Police Department's handling of the investigation.
Between March and June this year, blogs such as JurorThirteen.com — which bills itself as the place "where curbside lawyers, penal pundits, and gallery gadflies can meet in a court of public opinion" — have profiled Lilly's case. Other blogs disseminating Lilly's story include HelpFindTheMissing.org, WebSleuths.com, Current.com, and ZeroGossip.com, "a place for people's stories, not stories about people."