Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

March 9, 2014

Caitlyn Virts found ‘safe’ in South Carolina

DUNDALK, Md. — At a press conference before noon on Saturday, Baltimore County Police Chief Jim Johnson provided a thorough accounting of the events that led to the arrest of Timothy Howard Virts on charges of murder in the first degree, and the rescue of 11-year-old Caitlyn Marie Virts, who was found “safe.”

As part of Saturday’s press conference, Johnson released the following “Sequence of events,” that led to Caitlyn Virts’ rescue and the arrest of her father. Two factors played a major part in her recovery including the FBI’s entry into the investigation that expanded the Amber Alert regionally. Secondly, social media played a key role. The clerk at the Florence, S.C., motel where Timothy Virts took his daughter, saw the Amber Alert on Facebook, and contacted the Florence Police Department.

“Police responded just after 9 a.m., Thursday to the home on Ardee Way, where Bobbie Jo Cortez was found murdered in her bedroom. Bobbie Jo’s daughter, Caitlyn, was missing. Police quickly determined that Timothy Virts, Caitlyn’s father, had taken her and fled in a 1999 Dodge Durango. An Amber Alert was issued Thursday morning.”

The initial Amber Alert at 10:45 a.m., on March 6, was limited to Maryland, but after authorities in Maryland learned that Timothy Virts had ties to both Preston and McDowell counties in West Virginia, Baltimore County officials asked the West Virginia State Police to issue an Amber Alert as well. By Thursday evening, West Virginia State troopers in the Welch Detachment were on heightened alert because Timothy Virts had lived in McDowell County in 2010. He worked at the Save A Lot Food Store in Welch for 8 months.

“Between Thursday morning and the time Virts was found in South Carolina last night, Baltimore County Police Department detectives worked round the clock fielding and tracking down hundreds of tips and leads,” according to information provided at Johnson’s press conference. “None of these tips and leads panned out until yesterday afternoon. A critical turning point,” Johnson said, “was the FBI’s entrance into the case. The FBI helped broaden this search and extend the reach of the Amber Alert and other notification tools.

“Late (Friday) afternoon, we received credible information that Virts was in North Carolina. This gave the Baltimore County Police Department, for the first time, an idea that he was headed south.

“Last night, BCoPD received notification from the Florence, S.C., Police Dept., that the Dodge Durango driven by Virts had been located at the Colonial Motel. Johnson referred inquiries about the apprehension of Timothy Virts to Florence Police and thanked them for the crucial role they played in this case. Johnson noted that the Florence police reported that Virts was arrested without incident.”

“This was a situation whose successful outcome is a direct result of the emergency notification tools that helped the public and other law enforcement agencies identify Timothy Virts and the Dodge Durango,” Johnson said. “Johnson was told by the Florence police that a clerk at the Colonial Motel had seen notification about Caitlyn Virts’ disappearance on Facebook and contacted the authorities.”

“This case really illustrates the value of multiple platforms for notifying people of emergency situations — in this case, the Amber Alert, mainstream media, social media, the billboards and posters distributed by the FBI,” Johnson said. “Citizens who follow these notifications and call in tips truly are keyboard crime fighters, and we are immensely grateful for their participation in this crisis.”

“Johnson also thanked the many law enforcement partners who assisted with this case: The FBI, Florence Police Department, Maryland State Police and other law enforcement agencies throughout the region.”

Johnson also said at the press conference that Caitlyn and her siblings “have endured a terrible tragedy,” and said the Baltimore County government and other agencies will provide them with resources they need to help them.

– Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com

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