ORLANDO, Fla. – Authorities in New York are searching for two people seen running away from a torched vehicle that was rented by a group of people in Florida, including the parents of a toddler found in Buffalo who are now missing.
The burned vehicle was found behind a warehouse in Buffalo Monday evening, hours after a 3-year-old Florida boy was found sleeping on a New York porch that morning, police said.
After finding the boy, authorities began knocking on nearby doors to find out if anyone had a connection to him. Police later learned that the boy's parents, Miguel Valentin-Colon and Nicole Merced, and their friend, Dhamyl Roman-Audiffred were all reported missing. A missing persons investigation has been underway since.
"It's just like reliving watching it," said Jorge Oquendo, the grandfather of the toddler. "It's just, seeing how our grandson, like having to go through that situation, is just devastating knowing that he, he's there."
The boy's grandfather, Jorge Oquendo, told News 6 his son and two others took a road trip to Buffalo on Sunday, and he hasn't been able to contact them since then.
Around 6 p.m. Monday, police and fire officials in Buffalo received a call about the burned vehicle found about 1 mile from where the toddler was located that morning. Investigators said two bodies were found inside the vehicle, but were burned so severely that authorities have yet to identify them.
After finding the bodies in the torched vehicle, a homicide investigation was launched, police said.
Through social media and news broadcasts, the grandmothers of Noelvyn, the Florida toddler found sleeping in New York, were able to see reports about their grandson, who they say was last seen in the Orlando area Saturday. The women immediately flew to New York to positively identify that it was their grandson who had been found. The boy remains in the care of child protective services while his family files for custody.
In a news conference Thursday afternoon, Buffalo police said they have since been able to confirm that the torched vehicle was the one the boy's parents rented to drive to New York. Authorities said the boy's mother and father, along with a family friend and the toddler himself, all traveled to New York in the rented vehicle, which they believe is a white Chrysler Pacifica.
Also during the news conference Thursday, Buffalo police played videos that show what appears to be two people walking away from the torched vehicle in the early hours of Monday morning.
The first of the two videos, which has a timestamp of 2:54 a.m., shows the first person authorities are calling a person of interest walking toward the area where the car was found burned with an article of clothing over their head. At first glance, police said the clothing item could be mistaken for hair.
The second video, which has a timestamp of 3:01 a.m., shows the first person of interest, as well as another person being called a person of interest and the young child, hurrying away from the area where the car was burned. Police said the video also shows a flash in the upper left corner, which they believe is the car on fire, and at least one, possibly two, gas cans inside a bag one of the individuals was carrying as they ran from the scene.
Police said because it could take up to four weeks for the burned bodies to be identified by a medical examiner, there is still reason to believe all three people reported missing are alive.
Officers called the incident "beyond disturbing," adding that investigators are thankful the boy is alive because the video makes it clear that there could have been worse outcomes.
The boy will remain in the custody of child protective services while his family continues working to get custody, which police said will require court action in both Florida and New York. In the meantime, family members have been able to visit him and say he's doing well.
Authorities are asking anyone in the greater Buffalo area to contact police if they recognize the people in the video, saying they must have had to get gas or food at some point and may have interacted with others. Since the video was taken when it was dark out and there was no light in the area, officers said color may be distorted. Instead, they're asking that people pay attention to other identifiable factors, such as the way the people walk.
Police also want people who live near the area where the torched vehicle was found to check any cameras they have for footage of a white Chrysler Pacifica.
The family said that they want anyone who knows what happened, to come forward.
"If anybody knows, anybody can recognize their faces, anybody can get any kind of information, we, we really really really want them to call the police," said Oquendo.
Anyone with any information about the missing persons case or homicide investigation is asked to call the Buffalo Police Department's confidential tip line at 716-847-2255, or the homicide unit at 716-851-4444.