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[whitespace] Police still seeking clues in disappearance of teen

Los Gatos--The search continued late last week for a 16-year-old Los Gatos girl missing for more than two weeks.

Los Gatos-Monte Sereno police officers said they still have no word on the whereabouts of Maribel Palafox, a Los Gatos High School sophomore who vanished on Aug. 13 after her father dropped her off for work in Campbell. Witnesses said Palafox picked up her paycheck from El Burro restaurant but never reported for her evening shift as a hostess. On Aug. 16, investigators issued a statewide alert for Palafox and two other restaurant workers who quit their jobs in early August.

Police believed the girl might be headed for the Mexican border with one of the two men. Sgt. Michael Barbieri of the LG-MSPD said that, as of Aug. 26, investigators still had no new clues as to the girl's whereabouts.

Investigators have solicited help from Mexican consulate officials and have issued bulletins to all Mexican border states. Information compiled by investigators still indicated that the girl either was in or on her way to Mexico, police said.

Officers have been advised to be on the lookout for Marco Pimentel Mendoza, 23, of San Jose, a former waiter at El Burro who might be driving a white Ford Thunderbird with license plate number 3DGX286, and Roberto Avellano Salgado, 30, of San Jose, a former El Burro bartender. Salgado might be driving a blue 1994 Chevy Suburban, police said.

Officials said it still was unclear whether Palafox left willingly or against her will, but investigators believe the girl has had a relationship with Mendoza for about a year. Mendoza has an outstanding warrant out of San Jose for giving a false identity to a police officer, records showed.

Police have received unconfirmed reports that a friend had told the Palafox family that their daughter and Mendoza were safe in an undisclosed location, possibly somewhere in Mexico. Investigators also could not confirm a statement made by the victim's sister that the girl's birth certificate was missing, an indication that she might have planned to leave.

Chris Wilder, assistant director for the Vanished Children's Alliance in San Jose, said his organization had received reports of sightings of Palafox from as far away as Washington, D.C., and Seattle. Wilder said volunteers who would like to assist in the search could obtain and distribute posters featuring Palafox's photo from the alliance offices.

"It's important that people realize that all missing children, no matter what category, are at risk," Wilder said.

Palafox is the seventh of nine children of Israel and Anelia Palafox. Family members could not be reached for comment late last week.

Palafox is described as 5 feet 2 inches tall, weighing 130 pounds, with brown hair and eyes. Witnesses last saw her wearing a long black skirt, a light brown shirt, silver earrings and black dress shoes.

Police ask anyone with information to contact investigators at (408) 354-8600

Volunteers wanting to distribute posters may pick them up from the Vanished Children's Alliance, 2095 Park Ave. in San Jose, or contact the office at (408) 296-1113.
Jason Baker

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Web extra to the September 2-8, 1999 issue of Metro.

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