FITCHBURG — The Oliver family will continue its search for missing 5-year-old Jeremiah Oliver today, this time focusing on the area around Meadowbrook Village.
Jeremiah has been missing since September and is feared dead, but his family is holding out hope that he will be found alive, according to his father, Jose Oliver, and uncle, Sandrino Oliver.
“Not knowing if he’s alive, not knowing if he’s dead — it’s hurting us real bad,” Sandrino Oliver said Friday.
“My hope is that they find him alive,” Jose Oliver said.
They’ve enlisted the help of Miguel Fleitas, a U.S. Navy petty officer and concerned Fitchburg resident, with search-and-rescue training.
Fleitas, 46, who is in the Navy Reserves and earning a degree in communications media at Fitchburg State University, said he has been following Jeremiah’s story and felt compelled to offer his services.
“I can sympathize with the pain of the family, being a father myself,” the nine-year Navy veteran said. “I would not want any of that to happen to me, personally, myself, but I figured that if I could provide myself to help them in any capacity or way, I would do that — and I’m a big believer in giving back to the community.”
Fleitas said he will guide searchers through two wooded areas by Meadowbrook Village, where Alberto L. Sierra Jr., the boyfriend of Jeremiah’s mother, Elsa Oliver, was purportedly living before his arrest. Both Sierra and Elsa Oliver face abuse and other charges in connection with Jeremiah’s disappearance and alleged abuse of Oliver’s other children.
Fleitas said both wooded areas, one surrounding Meadowbrook Lane and the other across Wanoosnoc Road surrounding a nearby playground and the state pool, are easily accessible to vehicles and familiar to Sierra.
“I have report that Jeremiah was taken to that area to play by Sierra, so that area to me is of interest,” he said.
Fleitas asked that all who are able assist in the search today but urged them not to bring any children. He said participants should wear boots and warm clothes, and he is hoping that someone who is knowledgeable at reading maps will join in the search.
Those who will participate in the search will meet at 10 a.m. in the parking lot across from 276 Kimball St., where Elsa Oliver and the children had been living. Fleitas said he will give about a 45-minute briefing to searchers on safety, respecting private properties, and what to do if they believe they have found something that could help police. He said not touching potential evidence is imperative, and that the area should be marked and reported to law enforcement.
Fleitas said he will split participants into three teams and then head over to Meadowbrook Village for a search he expects will last an hour and a half to two hours long.
He said he knows emotions are high, and that Sierra’s family lives in the area.
“We need to be professional and not to make any comments or anything that might put the family in some fear,” Fleitas said. “Because this is about finding Jeremiah or having any clues to provide to the law enforcement, but we need to remain respectful of their privacy.”
Jose Oliver said he would not be taking part in the search today because he is back in his hometown of New Britain, Conn., where his children were born and he has recently been living. He said he will be holding a candlelight vigil for Jeremiah for family and the community there at 4 p.m. at 170 Oak St., New Britain.
Jose Oliver said he is prepared to fight for custody of his other two children with Elsa Oliver, and that he has a hearing on the matter in juvenile court Jan. 10 and is in the process of securing an apartment big enough for all of them in New Britain. The 7-year-old girl and 9-year-old boy have been in the custody of the state Department of Children and Families since their mother’s arrest Dec. 16.
“It means the world to me,” Jose Oliver said of getting his children back. “I haven’t seen them in two years. That’s not what I wanted. I want to be a father to my kids. That’s my No. 1 priority, to get my kids back so they can be home where they belong and not in DCF custody.”
He said he was reunited with them briefly on Monday.
“They both ran to me. My daughter kissed me, told me she want to come home,” Jose Oliver said.
He called his daughter his hero for speaking up about the abuse and her missing brother.
State police reportedly conducted another search around the Kimball Street home Thursday, but Worcester District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr. spokesman Paul Jarvey said he could not comment on any police search that may have taken place because it is part of the ongoing investigation. He said he had nothing new to report Friday.
When asked whether Elsa Oliver or Sierra may face any additional charges, Jarvey said, “That all depends on how the investigation unfolds.”
Jose and Sandrino Oliver urged anyone who may currently have Jeremiah to release him to the authorities and promised he would not pressed charges against them. If whoever might have him is afraid of being arrested, leave him somewhere safe anonymously, they pleaded.
“I just want my son back,” Jose Oliver said. “I don’t care about anything else, just my son.”
Bob Lowery, executive director of the Missing Children Division of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, said his organization has been involved with the case since Dec. 19. He said it is troublesome that there was a delay of three months in between when Jeremiah went missing and his disappearance was reported, and that delay will make the job of investigators much more difficult.
“Anytime a child, a 5-year-old is missing, especially at that age, time is the enemy,” Lowery said.
He said that if a child were to be killed while missing, it usually happens within the first two to three hours of that time period.
Lowery said the likelihood of Jeremiah being found safe and sound is small and diminishes with each passing day, but that hope must be kept alive until he is found.
“We have seen so many cases over the last couple years about children walking back into our lives that we thought were tragedies when they were actually alive and well,” he said.
He pointed to cases such as that of Jaycee Lee Dugard, a California woman who was abducted at age 11 and reunited with her family 18 years later, and the three Ohio women held captive in a Cleveland house for about a decade before one, Amanda Berry, escaped and contacted police this past May.
“It’s important that we remind everyone that we can’t stop looking until we find Jeremiah,” Lowery said. “We encourage them to look anywhere and everywhere until a child has been found.”
Lowery said that when NCMEC was started 30 years ago, the recovery rate for missing children was about 63 percent. Today, the rate is between 98 and 99 percent, but even 2 percent of children that can’t be found is still too many, he said.
Lowery said the NCMEC will keep Jeremiah’s case open until he has been found and will continue to work with the family and law enforcement until then.
“Keeping the public engaged in a case like this is very helpful,” he said. “In our experience, there is almost always someone out there that has a piece of information that can lead to the recovery of a child.”
Lowery urged anyone with any information, no matter how seemingly small or inconsequential, to report it to the local authorities or to NCMEC, which runs a 24-hour hot line at 1-800-THE-LOST.
“They may have seen something they didn’t think was important, but it could be, so notify law enforcement,” he said. “It may be the key piece that leads to the finding of the child.”