16-year-old found safe; stepfather arrested

Teen seen leaving Arlington home Sunday night with 29-year-old man

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The family of a 16-year-old girl who was reported missing Sunday night was excited and relieved Tuesday afternoon to learn late Tuesday that she was found safe.

"Thank God for this," a family member told News4Jax. "I will just say, 'I love you. I missed you.'"

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement canceled the statewide missing child about 4:30 p.m. Tuesday. A few minutes later, Jacksonville police said that both Elizabeth Marie Rivas-Cordona and her 29-year-old estranged stepfather, Julian Salazar Zavala, were both in custody, but they did not say where.

Zavala was being held by authorities on interference with custody charges. There was no word on why the girl was being held.

Earlier Tuesday, the family told News4Jax they were distraught and heartbroken that Elizabeth would run off with Zavala. The family told News4Jax that Zavala used to live the Arlington home with his wife and they were suspicious that something was going between the teen and Zavala in 2015.

The pair left her home off Lone Star Road about 11 p.m. Sunday. The family was concerned because, even though Elizabeth apparently left voluntarily, Zavala has a criminal history and has shown he can be violent.

"The situation is very difficult because she is a child," Elizabeth's aunt, Marta Cardona, said. "We are afraid that he might do something to her."

Zavala was charged with domestic battery by strangulation in August 2016 after a neighbor reported seeing him choke his wife.

According to the arrest report, "He held his hands around the victim's throat for approximately 30-40 seconds before releasing his hold on her neck.”

While Zavala originally pleaded guilty, his attorney filed a motion that it be withdrawn, claiming his client didn't understand the court forms because they were in English and he only speaks Spanish. In November 2016, Zavala's motion was granted and he was not prosecuted.

About the Author: