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Search continues for missing pregnant woman from New Bedford; nationwide alert in effect

A nationwide alert remains in effect for a pregnant 18-year-old who is still missing after the man who allegedly kidnapped her last month in New Bedford was fatally shot by authorities in Florida.

Jalajhia Finklea was seen on surveillance cameras walking from her mother’s home on Cottage Street in New Bedford on Oct. 20 to a rental car on a nearby street that authorities believe was driven by 37-year-old Luis R. Zaragoza of New Bedford, who once dated Finklea’s aunt, according to police.

Zaragoza, who used the alias of Luis R. Barboza, died Nov. 5 in the parking lot of a McDonald’s restaurant in Crestview, Fla., as the US Marshals and an Okaloosa, County, deputy sheriff moved to arrest him for kidnapping Finklea. Police opened fire after one shot was heard emanating from inside the rented car, authorities in Massachusetts and Florida said.

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A week later Finklea’s whereabouts remain unknown.

"We are continuing to pursue every lead in the case and the search for her,'' Gregg MiIiote, spokesman for Bristol District Attorney Thomas M. Quinn III said Wednesday.

According to an extensive New Bedford Police report used to obtain the kidnapping arrest warrant, Finklea was seen at a Boston clinic on Oct. 20 for the first of a two-part medical procedure and was brought home by her mother.

Her mother left to pick up a prescription. When she returned around 5:30 p.m., her daughter was not there, Finklea’s mother told New Bedford police when she reported her missing the next day.

The clinic, Finklea’s mother told police, said that Finklea was facing a life-threatening medical emergency if she did not complete the second stage of the two-part medical treatment. The medical issue was not disclosed in the report.

Police checked neighborhood surveillance cameras and learned Finklea left home a few minutes before her mother returned that evening and walked over to Coggeshall Street, where she got into a car with a Massachusetts license plate, a car police later learned Zaragoza had rented at Boston’s Logan International Airport.

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Finklea remained in the car for 20 minutes and was still in it when surveillance video showed the 2020 Hyundai Elantra driving west on Coggeshall Street. "At the time of her disappearance, there was no evidence that Finklea was planning to leave her home,'' police wrote. “She had no belongings ... and was aware of the medical need to return to Boston.”

Zaragoza, according to police, had once dated Finklea’s aunt, but the relationship ended after he was violent toward the aunt. Finklea’s mother gave police Zaragoza’s cellphone number, along with her daughter’s, as officers searched for the teen, who was attending Barnstable High School on a remote basis.

Finklea has not been in contact with her aunts, her best friends, or a cousin with whom she was a frequent presence on telephone and social media postings, police wrote. "They state that this is extremely uncommon as Finklea would not drop all communication with them,'' police wrote.

Police intensified their search for Finklea and the car she was seen getting into, using location data for Zaragoza and Finklea’s phones.

Police found that Finklea’s phone became stationary at mile marker 7.6 on Route 140 in New Bedford about 10 minutes after the car left Coggeshall Street. Police found her phone on Oct. 29 in the breakdown lane there.

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Zaragoza’s phone was powered down at about the same time and location that Finklea’s phone became stationary. The phone was then turned back on when he was 65 miles away in Rhode Island.

Using license plate reading devices along with cellphone tracking information, investigators traced the rental car into Rhode Island, through New York City, and into a rest stop in New Jersey where the car was parked between midnight and 2 a.m. on Oct. 21.

No one was seen getting in or out of the car, and the surveillance images did not show if there was a passenger in the vehicle, police wrote.

Zaragoza drove back into New York City, then reversed direction, stopping at the rest stop again, but could not be seen on the surveillance video the second time because of heavy traffic there, police wrote.

Through license plate reader and cellphone tracking information, police determined the rental car, presumably with Zaragoza behind the wheel, was in Orangeburg, S.C., on Oct. 22, Jacksonville, Fla., on Oct. 23 and driving on Interstate 10 in Texas a day later, police said in the report.

The license plate cameras only detected one person in the vehicle, police said.

Police continued tracking him and the rental car. And when New Bedford police obtained the arrest warrant Nov. 5, they alerted the marshals and authorities in Florida, who confronted Zaragoza around 8:30 a.m.

Zaragoza was pronounced dead at the scene. The use of deadly force is under investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, officials said.

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Finklea’s mother could not be reached for comment Wednesday.



John R. Ellement can be reached at john.ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.