Elba Leonor Diaz Soccares, 76, was identified through an exhaustive, six-year investigation by HSPD that involved authorities throughout the world and tips from people responding to media coverage on HSPD's longtime efforts to learn her true name.
Elba is a U.S. citizen who emigrated from Columbia in 1969 and lived in Brooklyn , N.Y., where she worked in blouse and dress factories as a single mother, according to Lt. Eduardo Ojeda, who has been relentless in his efforts to learn her identity since meeting her at Hagedorn Psychiatric Hospital six years ago.
“It brings some closure,” said Ojeda. “She deserves the dignity of a name,” he said, adding that Elba has now been approved for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) assistance and Medicaid and is awaiting transfer to a nursing home.
Elba has advanced Alzheimer's and is not able to speak. She said her name in Spanish once when she was first admitted but was unable to help authorities learn her identity. When she was found, she was clean, well-dressed, and showed no signs of abuse. She carried an empty purse.
She was never reported missing but was entered on the John Doe Network during previous attempts by HSPD to identify her.
HSPD has repeatedly checked missing person records, foreign consulates and worked with law enforcement agencies nationwide in unsuccessful attempts to identify her.
As a result of DHS news and photo releases in August and September 2008, HSPD received numerous calls - “sometimes 18 per day” - from people who thought they recognized Elba.
“A lot of the calls came from people who hoped to find missing mothers and relatives,” Ojeda said.
Many of the callers wanted to remain anonymous, and some indicated Elba might have a daughter in Brooklyn, according to Ojeda.
After finding the daughter's birth certificate, with Elba's name as her mother and Columbia as Elba's birthplace, Ojeda visited the Colombian Consulate in New York, which then contacted U.S. immigration authorities. A computer check verified Elba's date of birth, date of entry into this country, city of origin, Social Security number, and passport information.
Elba was born on March 28, 1934 in the town of Villanueva, Department of La Guajira, an economically depressed and agricultural area of Colombia.
Prior to coming to the U.S., Elba lived in Venezuela for several years, Ojeda said. She left two brothers and four sisters in Colombia, Ojeda said, adding that DHS is disseminating information about her whereabouts throughout Latin America.
The daughter, whose name is being withheld by HSPD, identified her mother through a photograph, Ojeda said, She said she had lost touch with her before 1994, he said. “It's a private family matter,” Ojeda said.
Ojeda said he is grateful for the cooperation he received from many news outlets, Maria Colmenares of the Colombian Consulate in New York, the U.S. Immigration and Nationalization Services, Investigator Morgan Neuwirth of New York City Social Services, Susan Whitman of the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, as well as to many people in the Latino community in Brooklyn and Manhattan who responded to the media coverage.
Ojeda said he's still not sure how Elba ended up at the Woodbridge Mall, but that some callers reported seeing a woman meeting her description outside stores and food markets near the mall around the time she was found.