Search for missing woman moves upstate

December 12, 2008 2:25:04 PM PST
The search for a missing New York City woman who was last seen with a convicted sex offender has shifted to an upstate New York village, though it has been called off for the remainder of Friday.Search teams have been sifting through a wooded area in Bloomingburg, a village in Sullivan County, looking for any sign of 25-year-old Laura Garza, who was last seen on December 3 leaving a Chelsea nightclub with 23-year-old Michael Mele.

Friday afternoon, Garza's brothers toured the search site with with authorities. State police had earlier searched near Mele's Wallkill apartment in Orange County.

Mele is a "person of interest" in Garza's disappearance. He has not been charged, but is being held at the Orange County Jail on probation violations.

Garza's brothers, Nicholas and Ivan, are in New York from Texas and spoke to Eyewitness News reporter Jim Dolan.

"We're a tight family," Nicholas said. "This has been like a bad dream. I just want to wake up tomorrow and think that this didn't happen."

Laura Garza left the Marquee nightclub early last Wednesday morning and hasn't been seen or heard from since. Surveillance video shows her leaving the club with Mele.

Garza dreamed her whole life of coming to New York and becoming a dancer.

"Her dream, to come to the big city," Nicholas Garza said. "She wanted to go to a dancing school to become a teacher."

The brothers handed out flyers in the area around Mele's home, hoping for a miracle.

"We're asking the community, if you see her on the streets, whatever, please give us a call," Ivan Garza said.

What the family wants most is for Mele to talk, to tell the police what he knows. But he remains coldly quiet in a jail cell.

Meanwhile, more alleged victims are coming forward to speak out against Mele. The father of one of his's victims also spoke to Eyewitness News.

Kevin McLean's daughter is a college student now, but she went on national TV Wednesday to talk about what Mele did to her, in the hopes that it would help other victims come forward. So far, more than a dozen women have gone to police to talk about Mele.

"She recognized the guy," Kevin McLean said. "He changed a bit, but she recognized him."

Mele's face was what Adriana McLean was trying to forget. At a time when she should have been thinking about prom and graduation, she instead had to retell her encounter with Mele to police countless times. It is a nightmare she is now reliving.

"The guy just came up to her, followed her," Kevin McLean said. "She realized she was being followed, and then he grabbed her."

McLean was only 17 when Mele targeted her for one of many self-gratifying attacks to which he pleaded guilty. He pounced on the teen to expose and fondle himself in the Palisades Mall parking lot. In that case and others, his DNA turned up on either his victims' coats or car doors as they struggled to get away.

"I think he had been skating by," McLean said. "With whatever he was doing, he was just kind of getting away with it, pretty much. And ultimately, it culminated in a serious offense."

Mele was booked for numerous probation violations Tuesday.

"Merely putting them together at one point in time when she's still alive and well doesn't really advance any case that we could try to establish for prosecution at this point," New York State Police Captain Wayne Olson said.

State police have expanded their search for Garza to Duchess County. They are attempted to retrieve satellite record from his car's GPS system and are interviewing more than a dozen women who encountered Mele.

While he continues his wall of silence, the young woman last seen in his car is still missing a week later.

"We need to know what happened to her, where she is now," Olson said. "We certainly would hope she is still alive, but we're not so naive to think that something worse may have happened.

Anyone with information is asked to call CrimeStoppers at 1-800 577-TIPS or text tips to 274637 then enter tip577.

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