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Hotel Clerk, 'Keyboard Crime Fighters,' FBI Pivotal in Virts Investigation: Police

'In my 36 years, I have never seen a greater degree of cooperation on a particular case.' —Baltimore County Police Chief Jim Johnson

Timothy Virts, Caitlyn Marie Virts. (Credit: Baltimore County Police Department)
Timothy Virts, Caitlyn Marie Virts. (Credit: Baltimore County Police Department)
Social media, the FBI and a hotel clerk helped lead authorities to a missing 11-year-old Dundalk girl and her father, who is wanted for murder, at a South Carolina motel Friday night, Baltimore County police said Saturday morning.

"We are very relieved," Baltimore County Police Chief Jim Johnson said at a press conference Saturday morning.

Timothy Virts, 38, was arrested without incident Friday evening at the Colonial Inn in Florence, SC, and will be extradited to Maryland, where he is wanted in the murder of Bobbie Jo Cortez, 36.

Cortez was found dead in her bedroom Thursday morning in Dundalk, where it was discovered that one of her daughters—Caitlyn Virts, 11—was missing, police said. 

When police found Caitlyn Virts at the Colonial Inn Friday night, she "appeared to be unharmed," said Johnson, who thanked public safety officials, media and citizens for their efforts.

"The Amber Alert system, the media, public safety notification systems up and down the East Coast, cities talking to each other, Twitter.... I'm absolutely convinced [they] led to the successful, safe closure of this chapter of this very terrible tragedy," Johnson said Saturday.

"Our citizen keyboard crime fighters played an essential role in bringing Caitlyn to safety and bringing this matter to closure," Johnson said. 

A tip from a hotel clerk at the Colonial Inn Friday night led to the arrest of Timothy Virts by the Florence City Police Department, according to Johnson.

The clerk saw the Amber Alert on Facebook, recognized Virts and called 911, NewsChannel 15 in South Carolina reported.

"...the father and daughter came to my window together, [so] it was easier to put the two together when I saw the Amber Alert picture of them together on Facebook," the inn employee told the TV station.

The coordination among agencies and the public was notable, Johnson said.

"In my 36 years, I have never seen a greater degree of cooperation on a particular case," Johnson said. "The coordination was absolutely stunning, and had it not been for the FBI's early involvement in this case when we felt as though the subject had the means and wherewithal to leave the area ... the outcome of this thing would not be the same..."

The FBI was involved within hours of Caitlyn Virts being reported missing, and police discovered that Timothy Virts may be driving a Dodge Durango that would enable him to leave the area, police said.

"In this case, what we did is what we always do—we just used every tool we had," FBI Special Agent in Charge Steve Vogt said. "We attempted to track where Mr. Virts may be going, and we were really concerned for the safety of Caitlyn—that was number one, was to get her back, and to find Mr. Virts and get him into custody, number two."

Vogt continued: "As we tracked where [Timothy Virts] was going, we targeted media to those areas to get leads..."

An Amber Alert went out in North Carolina Friday afternoon, around the time the Baltimore County Police Department announced that the FBI and U.S. Marshals were involved in a nationwide search for the father and daughter.

"...the public called in, and that's what led to the successful resolution..." Vogt said.

Regarding the arrest, Johnson deferred questions to the Florence City Police Department.

"We believe Virts was arrested without incident," Johnson said. "He will be extradited to Maryland for prosecution, and our investigation is active at this time." Extradition may take 7 to 12 days, he added.

As for Caitlyn Virts, the process will involve many agencies, Johnson said.

"This child and her siblings have endured terrible trauma, terrible tragedy," Johnson said. Their mother's homicide was a "particularly violent, brutal murder," Johnson said, noting that one of the daughters found Bobbie Jo Cortez in the woman's bedroom.

"Baltimore County Government and other agencies will provide all the resources possible to help them deal with the aftermath," police said in a prepared statement.

Social services agencies in South Carolina and Maryland are involved at this point, and "Caitlyn will eventually be returned to the state of Maryland in the very near future," Johnson said.

Social services and the FBI will provide assistance in the days and weeks to come, Johnson said, and state agencies will help with decisions about the children's future.

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Polly March 09, 2014 at 06:40 AM
Thank goodness she was found. I am hopeful that she and her siblings will get the psychological help they will need to deal with the trauma of their mother's murder and Caitlyn's kidnapping. All too often these things don't end well.
Scott Wilson March 09, 2014 at 09:37 PM
POOR CHILD-----------HANG HIM !!!!!!!!!
Michelle March 10, 2014 at 09:44 AM
So glad they were found and Caitlyn was unharmed. However to say hang him before you know the truth is a little capricious. While I agree, murder is never the answer, the reason behind his actions could have been to protect the child. The mothers husband was just arrested for sexual abuse of two minors. If it were my children who were living in the house with a monster, and god forbid one of them was a victim, I don't know if I would have a rational mind either. Prayers to all involved.
Justin case March 10, 2014 at 09:56 AM
It's obvious this man had no intentions of hurting his daughter. He took her to get her to safety. Her mother's creepy husband was charged with child molestation and her safety was at risk so he got her out of there. It's sad that mommy was killed but more than likely she was standing behind her husband and his molestation charges and the unfortunate happened to her. The little girl was taken to safety by her distraught father and mommy unfortunately got in the way. The saying goes "if you lay with dogs, you get fleas". You can't stand behind a dirtbag child molester without consequences. Free daddy. Free daddy. Free daddy.

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