Car connected to missing LA teen found in San Diego

SAN DIEGO -- A vehicle connected to a missing 15-year-old girl last seen in Los Angeles County was recovered unoccupied Friday by police near the San Ysidro Port of Entry.

Alora Benitez was last seen with her mother and a man -- both suspects in the killing of a man whose body was found in the front seat of a car in Carson -- and a relative had said earlier they may have headed for Mexico.

Benitez was last seen at 9 a.m. Wednesday in Torrance leaving with Maricela Mercado, 40, and Roman Cerratos, 39, in a white, 2013 BMW sedan, with Nevada license plate "MARIMAR," according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

The teen and her mother lived in an apartment in Redondo Beach, where the woman was seen Wednesday moving items from the residence. A family car remained parked at the location.

The teen is Hispanic, 5 feet 2 and weighs 100 pounds, with brown hair and brown eyes.

Mercado is 5 feet 3 and 130 pounds, with brown hair and brown eyes. Cerratos is 6 feet 1 and 210 pounds, bald with brown eyes.

They are suspects in the killing of a man found dead Tuesday in the front seat of a white Audi parked in the 400 block of East Carson Plaza Drive.

The body of Jeffrey Appel, 32, was found by deputies about 6:50 a.m. Tuesday in the 400 block of East Carson Plaza Drive, according to the sheriff's department.

The death had preliminarily been classified as a stabbing, but the sheriff's department later reported that it was unknown if the man had been stabbed. An autopsy was pending and the motive for his slaying was not known.

Anyone who spots the girl, her mother or Cerratos was urged to call 911 immediately, according to the sheriff's department, which said the adults should be considered armed and dangerous.

Anyone with information on the suspects' whereabouts was asked to call sheriff's homicide Detectives Lawler or Blagg at 323-890-5500 or Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.

The amber alert was initially issued Wednesday, later canceled on grounds that the girl may not really have been in danger, then reissued Thursday.

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