Police aren't doing enough to find missing Boyle Heights teen, family says

Nearly three months ago, 15-year-old Michelle Giselle Lopez celebrated her birthday with family and friends at the Ocha Classic 1 Thai restaurant in Koreatown.

That July evening was notable outside of the birthday orange chicken because it marked one of the few times that Michelle enjoyed an evening out, according to her sister Nataly Jaqueline Arias.

The "highly introverted" youngster would rather spend her free time at her family's Boyle Heights home watching movies than out on the town, said Arias, 27.

That's why concern is growing over the health and safety of Michelle, who has been missing since Oct. 12, according to family members.

Michelle was last seen attending classes at Downtown Magnets High School. She's 5 foot 3, weighs 140 pounds and has brown hair and brown eyes along with a distinctive small scar on her forehead.

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Her mother was supposed to pick up the sophomore and her 16-year-old brother Carlos, a junior, at 3 p.m. Michelle never showed.

"That's the routine, for Carlos and Michelle to be picked up by mom every day because they live about 15 to 20 minutes away," Arias said. "My mom immediately starting asking around when she didn't know where my sister was."

Their mother filed a missing-person report with the school administration, the Los Angeles Unified School District and the Los Angeles Police Department, according to Arias.

An L.A. Unified spokesperson said in a statement: "As a school community, we share our concern for student safety, and follow all Los Angeles Unified protocols including working with the Los Angeles Unified School Police and the Los Angeles Police Department. Also, schools provide support to families, and we encourage all parents and students to seek out school services to address any concerns."

An email to the LAPD media relations department was not immediately returned.

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"This is a girl who has never even had a sleepover," said Arias, a Downtown Magnets alumna currently pursuing her doctorate at UCLA in medical and molecular pharmacology. "For her to be out this long is not normal, and we need everyone's help finding her."

The family spoke to the girl's friends and the few leads that arose were turned over to the LAPD.

Yet, those actions haven't resulted in Lopez's safe return home, which has frustrated Arias.

"We're working harder than the LAPD," she said. "There are rumors and leads that she's located in a heavy gang area where trafficking has been known to happen and [the police] haven't done anything," she said.

The family created a GoFundMe account on Tuesday to raise funds to hire a private investigator. As of Wednesday afternoon, they've raised just over $4,000 of their $5,000 goal.

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On top of searching, the Lopez family has also rebutted online and media claims that Michelle ran away, either after an argument with her mother or to be with a secret boyfriend.

"I haven’t heard anything about a fight with my mom, and she would have told me," Arias said. "As for the alleged boyfriend, one parent did reach out to us with some concerns, but I don't think she ran away with anyone."

This semester, the Lopez family had hoped Michelle would join an on-campus activity, club or sport to be a little more open. That concern is now moot.

"We were talking about her playing volleyball this year," Arias said. "Now we just want her home."

The family has asked anyone with information to reach out to them on Instagram at @michellegisellelopez

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.